Missouri human rights groups respond to Senate bill

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JEFFERSON CITY - Two of Missouri's biggest human rights organizations held a conference Wednesday to respond to Senate Bill 43, which would adjust the standards for and adds provisions to the Missouri Human Rights Act, dealing specifically with workplace discrimination.

The Missouri Chapter of the NAACP and Empower Missouri shared their objections to the bill, which advanced in the Senate Tuesday night.

In a statement, the organizations said the bill "safeguards the identity of persons who commit discrimination and removes whistle blower protection".

The first part of the statement refers to the "Unlawful Discriminatory Practices" portion of the bill, which says, "This act provides that the entities subject to prohibitions on certain unlawful discriminatory practices are limited to employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or places of public accommodations."

The second part of the statement refers to the "Whistleblower's Protection Act" portion of the bill, which bars employers from firing employees who are:

  • An employee of an employer who reports an unlawful act of the employer
  • An employee of an employer who reports to an employer serious misconduct of the employer that violates a clear mandate of public policy as articulated in a constitutional provision, statute, or regulation promulgated under statute
  • An employee of an employer who refuses to carry out a directive issued by an employer that, if completed, would be a violation of the law
  • An employee of an employer who engages in conduct otherwise protected by statute or regulation where the statute or regulation does not provide for a private right of action

The organizations said their issue with the bill is a moral one.

"You cannot legalize discrimination and harassment between people," Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel said. 

Heartland Women in Trades Representative Jessica Podhola said she is concerned with the Whistleblower's Protection Act specifically.

"Sometimes, when you make it about a 'he said, she said,' it becomes really hard for people who are not in power to fight for protections," Podhola said.

Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who wrote the bill, said it is more about making Missouri a more business-friendly state.

"This bill was to create a better environment for businesses to operate in," Romine said.

 The bill adjusts standards for workplace discrimination lawsuits to be more similar to the federal level, he said.

"Surrounding us, Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas, 90 percent of their discrimination case go through the EEOC or the federal level," Romine said. "Missouri, 90 percent of our cases go through Missouri because it's such a low standard.