In June of last year, Missouri governor Eric Greitens made it more difficult for workers to prove discrimination cases. In a battle that had waged between the Missouri Supreme Court and legislators, plaintiffs had to show that discrimination was a contributing factor in a case of wrongful termination. Now plaintiffs must prove that bias was the explicit reason for their termination.
In the majority of cases, this is incredibly difficult because it speaks to the state of mind of an employer when they are making a decision. The new law, known as Senate Bill 43, applies a motivating factor standard to workplace discrimination cases. Proponents of the bill claim this puts Missouri in line with Federal standards, while opponents claim that the bill makes it nearly impossible for those that are being discriminated against to prove their cases in court.
SB Bill 43 Removes Protections for Whistleblowers
While putting Missouri law in line with Federal standards may not seem on the surface to be a major problem for Missouri workers, the law also limits protections for whistleblowers. Under the old law, whistleblowers were protected from retaliation, including the reporting of illegal activity of their employers. In addition, the law protected employees from having to carry out illegal acts under the directives of their employers.
Under SB 43, a whistleblower may be limited in what they can recoup. This is largely because punitive damages have been heavily reduced in whistleblower cases and in many cases, and employee may only be entitled to 200% of their back pay and medical expenses.
Before this law went into effect, there was no cap on punitive or other damages that an employee could receive as part of a settlement. Under the new law, workplace discrimination settlements are capped at a set amount depending on the size of the company. Why a larger company would be liable for higher damages under the same law is somewhat unclear. Nonetheless, damages will be capped at $500,000 for companies that have over 500 employees and graduated downward from there.
What this Means for Employee Discrimination Suits
Laws such as these are ostensibly aimed at limiting “frivolous” lawsuits. In fact, they end up reducing accountability for employers and their businesses. For employment lawyers, this means the job of proving discrimination cases in court has become harder, but not impossible. For employees that feel that their work environment is hostile, it means involving a lawyer earlier in the process.
Lawyers will now need to be able to prove a timeline of harassment, ignored complaints, and retaliation in order to make a solid case in court. Under the higher standard, Missouri employees must prove bias was an explicit motivating factor. For the employee, that means keeping a record of events as they occur in order to ensure that the burden of proof is met.
For those that have been the victim of workplace discrimination or harassment, involving a lawyer early in the process has never been more important. HKM employment attorneys of Kansas City will help you get the evidence you need to prove your case. Give us a call at 816.607.4691 and we can start discussing your case today.