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Gov. Greitens Signs “Employer-Friendly” Amendments to Anti-Discrimination Law

At the end of last week, Gov. Eric Greitens signed legislation amending the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) to make the statute more “employer-friendly.” The bill will take effect on Aug. 28, 2017. How will the legislation change the current Missouri law?

The new legislation eliminates individual liability for supervisors and specifies that only the employer may be held responsible for discrimination. Currently, an employee alleging discrimination can sue both the employer and any supervisory employee who is alleged to have discriminated. The elimination of individual liability is particularly significant for an employer that is not headquartered in Missouri and does not have its principal place of business here. Under the new law, these “nonresident” employers will be able to transfer an MHRA case from state to federal court. Federal courts tend to be more “friendly” to employers in such cases and will often dispose of weak cases without requiring an employer to defend at trial.

The new legislation also excludes from the definition of “employer” any entity that is owned or operated by a religious entity. This would presumably exclude from suit, for example, entities such as religious charities or hospitals operated by religious orders.

The new legislation also imposes limits on the amount an employee may recover as damages in an MHRA lawsuit. The new caps limit all damages other than actual back pay, interest on back pay, attorney fees and court costs to:

$50,000 for employers with fewer than 100 employees.
$100,000 for employers with more than 100 but fewer than 200 employees.
$200,000 for employers with more than 200 but fewer than 500 employees.
$500,000 for employers with more than 500 employees.
The damage cap under current law in an MHRA case places limits only on punitive damages to $500,000 or five times the “net amount of judgment.” The Missouri courts have construed the term “net amount of judgment” to include a variety of damages including mental distress damages and attorney fees. Under current law, if an employee received $50,000 for mental distress and $150,000 for attorney fees, punitive damages would be capped at $1,000,000 ($50,000 + 150,000 = $200,000 x 5 = $1,000,000).

The new law adopts a “motivating factor” standard rather than the less stringent “contributing factor” standard for liability. “Motivating factor” means that the employee’s protected characteristic (race, sex, age, etc.) had “a determinative influence” on the employer’s decision. The law also instructs courts to apply a more stringent test in considering whether a case merits a trial or can be thrown out before trial.

The new legislation also specifically permits an employer to challenge, at any time, the timeliness of a charge of discrimination or the authority of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) to issue a right to sue letter. This portion of the legislation is intended to reverse prior case law that required an employer to sue the MCHR in order to challenge timeliness or jurisdiction.

The new legislation also creates a “Whistleblower Protection Act” that codifies some of the case law on public policy wrongful discharge. For example, the legislation requires an employee to complain to outside authorities in certain circumstances rather than complaining to management. In addition, the new law adopts the “motivating factor” standard of liability in place of the “contributing factor” for whistleblower cases. The new law also defines the damages available. Specifically, an employee may recover (1) back pay, (2) reimbursement of medical bills, (3) attorney fees, (4) court costs and, in limited circumstances, (5) liquidated damages in an amount equal to double that of back pay and medical bills.

The final major change is a provision in the new law stating that the remedies under the Workers' Compensation Act, the Human Rights Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act are the exclusive remedy “for injury or damages arising out of an employment relationship.” This change is designed to shield employers and supervisors from tort claims that were often used to circumvent the employment at will doctrine that had long been the law in Missouri.

 

© Copyright 2022 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 188
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About this Author

Shelley Ericsson, Labor, Employment, Attorney, Armstrong Teasdale, law firm
Partner

Shelley Ericsson provides practical, sophisticated advice to complex legal problems unique to the labor and employment arena.

In state and federal courts and before state, federal, and local administrative agencies, Shelley defends employers in matters involving claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and wages. With a deep knowledge of employment law policies and an eye on the ever-changing economic reality, she litigates matters such as Title VII, Section 1981, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Americans with...

816-472-3143
Robert A Kaiser, Employment, Labor, Attorney, Armstrong Teasdale, Law firm
Partner

Bob Kaiser is a member of the Employment and Labor practice group representing emerging and mature businesses in labor and personnel-related disputes. Because employment and labor laws and regulations continue to evolve, he deftly guides management in creating “fences” and boundaries to assess risks and decrease litigation.

A portion of Bob’s practice includes traditional labor law, a focus he has had for more than 25 years. For small- to mid-sized organizations, he handles labor union relations such as union avoidance, collective bargaining, elections, strikes, picketing and other...

314-342-4153
Daniel K. O'Toole, Litigation Attorney, Armstrong Teasdale Law Firm
Partner

Dan O’Toole, a respected leader and trial strategist, heads Armstrong Teasdale’s Litigation practice group and is a key member of the firm’s executive and management committees.

In his practice, Dan defends employers against a broad range of complaints and threats of legal action involving workplace situations. Because of his background and achievements in employment and labor law, Dan has been recognized repeatedly by Chambers USA, The Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyers and for the last several years was included as one of the “Top 50”...

314-552-6612
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