Missouri discrimination bill passes committee unchanged

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. (AP) - A controversial bill that would make it harder for people to sue for workplace discrimination passed a House committee Monday after lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to tack on five amendments.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Gary Romine from Farmington, makes it more difficult for employees to sue for workplace discrimination by forcing plaintiffs to prove that a protected class such as race, religion or sex, was the motivating reason for them being fired, rather than a contributing factor. It passed with an 8-5 vote.

The bill also prevents individuals, such as a store manager or other employees, from being sued for discrimination. And it sets caps for the amount of damages an employer must pay based on the size of the company.

Democrats and other groups such as the NAACP have slammed the proposal, saying it makes it "virtually impossible" to prove that the discrimination was the biggest factor in a person's termination.

But Republican lawmakers and pro-business groups say that it's too easy to sue for discrimination in the state, and this proposal would bring the law more in line with federal standards.

On Monday, Republican Rep. Bill White proposed an amendment removing words that he said could create unintended consequences for medical professionals that refuse to perform or assist in abortions.

Current law says that employers cannot refuse to hire or fire somebody in the medical field because they refuse to participate in an abortion. The bill applies to "any and all claims unlawful employment practices," and White said "any and all" could include people refusing to perform or assist in abortions.

Republican Rep. Kevin Corlew said that it would be "quite a stretch" for the courts to decide that the employment discrimination law would override an existing law.

That amendment was voted down 9-4.

Other amendments proposed by Democrats would've added sexual orientation to protected classes and removed the provision that prohibits lawsuits against individuals in a company for discrimination. Both were struck down.

The measure is one in a slew of so-called "tort reform" measures aimed at making Missouri more business-friendly. Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate, as well as Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, have made such legislation a priority this session.

© 2017 Associated Press


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