A bill on its way to Gov. Jay Nixon makes a number of changes in the state’s employment discrimination law, making it harder for fired workers to win in court.
A key change would require discrimination to be the motivating factor in a person’s firing, rather than the lower threshold of a contributing factor, to survive a summary judgment motion. The bill also provides that prevailing parties aren’t entitled to attorney fees.
The measure by Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, also changes the definition of “employer” to remove liability for people acting on the employer’s behalf under the Missouri Human Rights Act. The measure has been a key priority of business interests this year.
The bill places a limit on damages a plaintiff can receive in employment discrimination and whistleblower suits. The bill caps awards at back pay and interest plus $50,000, for smaller companies, up to $300,000, for defendant companies with more than 500 employees.
Attorneys for fired workers complain that those limits aren’t large enough to deter companies, especially large ones, from misconduct.
The measure also tosses Missouri caselaw providing for public policy exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine, which generally holds that a business need not give a reason for firing someone. Missouri courts have expanded the situations in which fired workers can pursue litigation in recent years, including to contract employees.
The House gave final approval to the bill yesterday, adopting the Senate version of the legislation. It’s now up to Nixon, a Democrat, whether to sign or veto the bill. A spokesman said only that Nixon will review the bill but hasn’t announced his plan.
The bill is SB188.