One of the casualties of Missouri’s SB 43 were protections for whistleblowers from employer retaliation. A Missouri Senate vote could restore some of those protections – at least for government employees. Whistleblowers were believed to be collateral damage in a wide-reaching and controversial tort-reform measure that sought to limit damages in employment discrimination lawsuits, while simultaneously raising the standard of proof in these cases. The bill, which caused an uproar among civil rights activists, the NAACP, and the ACLU, also reduced protections for whistleblowers.
The Whistleblower Protection Act prevents employers from firing employees who report unlawful activities and serious misconduct, especially misconduct that works against the public good. SB 43 did not do away with whistleblower protections completely, but it did reduce potential jury awards to make blowing the whistle on your employer high-risk and low-reward.
Under the new law, whistleblowers could not be compensated for “non-economic” damages. Workers who blow the whistle on their employers would only be entitled to back pay and medical expenses and could face a job market that is prejudiced against them merely for refusing to carry out an illegal act or bringing wrongdoing to the attention of the public.
Bill Would Restore Protections for Government Employees
A “minor tweak” to the established SB 43 passed the upper chamber unanimously earlier this month. The proposal was brought by Jill Schupp who believed that SB 43 provided no real remedy for employees that wanted to report legal violations, mismanagement, or a waste of funds. The bill states that employees of the government can share this information with law enforcement, prosecutors, or the media without fear of reprisals from their employers.
It remains unclear as to why whistleblower protections are being extended to government employees when they are, at the same time, being denied to those in the private sector. However, Republicans showed enthusiasm for the bill despite minimizing its scope. Schupp denied that the bill was a “minor tweak” and believes that bill will have a major impact on the public good. She further went on to say that the bill will allow government employees to hold those in power to task for mismanaging the public’s trust, which is a measure that Republicans ostensibly can get behind.
Nevertheless, the crux of the bill remains intact. This includes limitations on jury awards and a higher standard of proof for discrimination and harassment lawsuits against employers, measures that sparked a travel advisory against the state for measures that were seen as pro-discrimination.
Proponents of the measure are cautiously optimistic that this will cause Missouri Republicans to consider the hasty passage of SB 43, which was sponsored by a congressman who was himself mired in several discrimination lawsuits. However, optimism may be premature.
SB 43 was passed under the guise of creating a better business environment for Missouri, but it remains difficult to imagine how rolling back civil rights protections creates a better business environment.
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