Missouri bill would make it harder to sue for discrimination

If you don’t like getting sued for discrimination, just make it harder to sue.

That seems to be the theory underlying a bill pending in Missouri House of Representatives that was recently endorsed by the University of Missouri system.

The proposed bill would make it harder to sue by raising the level of proof in lawsuits alleging discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. It also would bar the award of punitive damages against “public entities.”

The University of Missouri Backs the Controversial Measure

The Missouri legislature’s Special Committee on Litigation Reform, which held a hearing on the bill last week, appears to be less than interested in opposing views. Committee Chairperson Bill Lant cut off the microphone of Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel, who said the measure would expand discrimination and represents a form of “Jim Crow.”   Lant, a Republican, also refused to allow a committee member to ask questions of Chapel.

Minutes before Chapel was silenced,  the Columbia Daily Tribune reports that Marty Oetting, lobbyist for the University of Missouri, told the committee that UM supports the bill, especially the part barring anyone winning a lawsuit from receiving punitive damages from public entities. The university system is currently facing two discrimination lawsuits,

The university claims workers receive sufficient protection under federal law and do not need the enhanced protections of the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The driving force behind the bill is Missouri State Sen. Gary Romaine, the owner of a “rent-to-own” furniture business that is currently a defendant in a race discrimination lawsuit.  Romaine couched the bill as a way of “reforming Missouri’s legal climate and improving our ability to grow existing businesses and attract new employers.”

The proposed bill would essentially adopt the current standard of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 for all victims of race and sex discrimination. Workers would have to show that discrimination occurred “because of” discrimination rather than meeting the lesser standard of showing that discrimination was a motivating factor.

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