- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A business-supported measure that would make it harder for workers to win employment discrimination lawsuits when they believe race, gender, age or other biases have played a role in being fired or passed over was approved by the Missouri House on Thursday.

Supporters said toughening the Missouri standard on discrimination from a “contributing factor to a “motivating factor” in employment decisions would prevent frivolous lawsuits and protect businesses while still compensating workers who have been harmed. But opponents said the measure would make it easier for companies to get away with discriminatory practices and put women, older workers and minorities at risk.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Kevin Austin, R-Springfield, said the proposal would bring the state in line with federal discrimination lawsuit standards. He said discrimination would not be tolerated but that those accused of discriminating should be allowed to mount a defense.

“It will allow claims without merit and defenses without merit to be heard early and extinguished early,” Austin said.

Democrats and some Republicans spoke against the bill, expressing concerns about making it more difficult for workers who had been fired or sexually-harassed on the job to prove discrimination.

“Telling me that that’s only 5 percent or that’s 10 percent and not the motivating reason why someone fired me doesn’t make it any easier, doesn’t mean that I wasn’t hurt by that,” said Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City.

The Missouri House voted 95-60 to send the measure to the Senate. That’s short of the votes needed to override a veto. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has rejected similar measures when they reached his desk in previous years.

The measure would also limit when workers who report potential wrongdoing at their company could sue for retaliation. That provision, dubbed the “Whistleblower Protection Act,” defines who would be able to sue for being fired in retaliation for trying to stop potentially illegal activity by their employer.

Opponents said the narrow definition and requirement that the whistleblower report the act to “proper authorities” could harm workers trying to do the right thing who don’t know who they should be talking to about misconduct by their boss or company.

Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, said that whistleblowers who stopped illegal activity from happening but were later fired would not be protected under the measure.

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Employment discrimination bill is HB 1019.

Online:

House: http://www.house.mo.gov

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Follow Marie French at: https://www.twitter.com/m_jfrench

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