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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nixon to Veto 'Enterprise Bill' Senate Bill 188 Would make it harder to prove discrimination in workplace

Nixon expected to veto changes to state's anti-discrimination laws
By Jo Mannies, Beacon political reporter
April 25, 2011

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon indicated strongly today that he'll be vetoing Senate Bill 188, a measure that alters the Missouri Human Rights Act and state laws governing employment discrimination, by making it tougher to sue.
Nixon issued a statement today blasting the bill, and adding that he will "take formal action" on Friday "in a public setting." In political code, that all but guarantees the governor is planning a very public veto.
"Making it easier for Missouri companies to discriminate against people with disabilities or cancer, and against women, older workers and minorities will not help us create jobs or be more competitive," Nixon said. "To thrive in a global economy and uphold the values we share, we must be a state that continues to move forward – not backward − when it comes to civil rights and equal opportunity."
The bill has been approved by the Missouri House and Senate. Its backers include the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has contended the bill was needed to bring the state's anti-discrimination laws in line with federal laws. The bill also had been nicknamed the "Enterprise Bill'' because it had been a top priority of Enterprise Rent-A-Car after it lost a whistleblower lawsuit.
(Click here for the Beacon's earlier coverage of the bill.)
The bill eliminates the state's current standard that says the law is broken if it's determined that discrimination was "a contributing factor." SB 188 stipulates that the standard would be changed so that discrimination would have to be a "motivating factor."
In lawsuits, under SB 188, it would be up to the plaintiffs to prove the standard. If victorious, plantiffs also would no longer be entitled to have their attorneys fees paid by the defendents.
(Click here to read the official summary of the bill's provisions.)
The opponents include trial-lawyers' groups and many St. Louis area Democrats in the General Assembly, who have called for Nixon's veto.
Said the governor in a statement today:
"Missouri is a state that welcomes all people, and believes that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity. That means eliminating discrimination and removing the barriers of prejudice wherever they exist. Whether it be in the workplace, in housing or in public accommodations, discrimination is wrong. It will not be tolerated here in Missouri."
Nixon went on to say that SB 188 "would undermine key provisions of the Missouri Human Rights Act, rolling back decades of progress in protecting civil rights, encouraging fair treatment and fostering mutual understanding and respect among all citizens.
"This bill would make it harder to prove discrimination in the workplace, and would throw new hurdles in the path of those whose rights have been violated," Gov. Nixon said. "That is unacceptable."
His office noted that "the bill is opposed by a broad coalition of advocacy groups representing women, individuals with disabilities and serious illnesses, senior citizens and minorities."
"Those groups include: American Cancer Society; AARP; Paraquad; The Whole Person; Missouri Association for the Deaf; Missouri Association for Social Welfare; National Education Association; Missouri Centers for Independent Living; Missouri Statewide Independent Living Council; Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council; NAACP and many others," Nixon's statement said.

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