In 2017, American companies paid out a record amount in jury verdicts and settlements to American workers. Come 2018, one report says that labor lawyers raced to settle lawsuits before America’s 45th POTUS could enact legislation that would favor US companies over US employees in labor disputes.
The government and labor attorneys litigated more cases in 2017 than ever before, securing larger settlements than the combined total for labor lawsuits in years prior. Many believe, however, that this trend will not continue, and President Trump factors largely into that belief.
Republican presidents have a reputation for being the party of big business, while the Democratic Party generally takes up the mantle of unions and workers. Has this led labor lawyers to believe that they need to get as much as they can while they are still able?
The President Sets Policy for Enforcement
One of the major issues that can impact cases is the willingness of a Republican-led administration to take up cases on behalf of employees. This primarily involves class-action cases. Individual cases involving individual employees filing complaints against individual companies does not appear set to drop off anytime soon. Nonetheless, there may be changes to the standard of proof required in order to successfully litigate these cases or caps on the amount of damages a plaintiff can receive.
Missouri Enacts Damage Caps and Raises Standard of Proof in Discrimination Lawsuits
With Republican supermajorities in the house and senate and a Republican governor, legislators passed major employer-friendly restrictions on discrimination lawsuits last year. These include:
- Motivating Factor Standard. This replaces the contributing factor standard. Plaintiffs must now prove that the underlying motivating factor for a discrimination lawsuit was bias against a protected class. Beforehand, plaintiffs needed only to prove that bias against a protected class was a contributing factor.
- Damage Caps. Legislators put caps on the amount of damages a plaintiff could receive when successfully litigating a lawsuit against an employer in a discrimination lawsuit. These caps are based on the size of your employer. A company with fewer than 100 employees is now only liable up to $50,000. Companies with over 500 employees can be liable up to $500,000.
- Limitations on Individual Liability. Managers, supervisors, and at-fault employees, even those who are guilty of sexual misconduct, are insulated from liability in lawsuits against the company.
- Summary Judgment. Courts are now required to determine the merits of a case before it proceeds to trial. Beforehand, it was difficult for defendants in discrimination lawsuits to pursue summary judgment.
- Business Judgment Defense. For all discrimination cases brought against companies under the MHRA (Missouri Human Rights Act), a jury instruction must be given detailing the defendant’s right to issue a business judgment defense.
- Whistleblower Protections. The law severely limits remedies for retaliation in whistleblower cases. It also limits employees who can claim whistleblower status. In addition, it eliminates whistleblower claims against the state itself.
While the law is meant to make Missouri a better investment prospect for businesses, it remains unclear what the ultimate result of reducing Missouri companies’ liability in employment lawsuits will be.
Nonetheless, those who sue their employers for wrongful termination based on discrimination or retaliation still have recourse under Missouri law. If your employer has wrongfully terminated you, contact HKM Employment Attorneys of Kansas City at 816.607.4691, and we will ensure your case is heard.