A New Missouri Law Creates Steep Hurdles to Discrimination Lawsuits

On July 1, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) signed into law—over the objections of civil rights groups—a bill that makes it much harder for victims of housing or employment discrimination to hold wrongdoers accountable in court. The legislation requires victims to prove that discrimination motivated their boss or landlord to treat them unfairly. Previously, victims of discrimination could recover damages if bias was a “contributing factor.” This allowed victims of sexual harassment or age discrimination, for example, to hold their boss or landlord accountable without direct evidence of bias, such as discriminatory statements. The legislation also places strict limits on the damages that plaintiffs can recover in discrimination suits.
The sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Gary Romine (R), owns a business that is currently facing a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. An African American employee who was fired from Sen. Romine’s furniture rental company claims that his supervisor repeatedly called him the N-word and said, “There will never be two black people working here again.” He also claims that his supervisor engaged in redlining by circling a predominantly black neighborhood on a map and writing “Do not rent to.”

The employee says that his complaints about this discrimination went all the way to Sen. Romine, who did nothing. The company denies the claims, but it has faced three prior complaints at the Missouri Commission on Human Rights for discrimination.
President of the Missouri NAACP Rod Chapel testified before the legislature that the bill was “nothing but Jim Crow”—and his microphone was silenced by leaders in the legislature. Chapel said the bill, along with other recent events in Missouri, means that “everybody’s civil rights are now in jeopardy.”

Both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have warned that the new law does not comply with federal requirements and could jeopardize federal funding for the Missouri Human Rights Commission. HUD said the law raises “several extremely serious and fundamental concerns” and warned that one provision could be viewed as “an attempt to insulate the state and its political subdivisions from any liability whatsoever for any violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act”—the implications of which reach far beyond the housing context. HUD criticized the limit on plaintiffs’ damages, which are “necessary to make a victim of discrimination whole.”

(Excerpted from Center for American Progress 7/12/17)