www.MissouriHumanRights.com
Pushing for Dignity and Fairness for Missouri's Workers

Contact: info@MissouriHumanRights.com
 

Stand up for workplace fairness in Missouri!
Do not reward companies that discriminate!
Defeat HB628!




AARP OPPOSES HB628

Here is a quote from the AARP website, at Statement by AARP Opposing Missouri HB 628:

"Protecting the rights of older workers by fighting age discrimination in employment is among AARP's longstanding signature issues. Over the past several decades, legislatures, judges and juries have gradually become sensitive to the unique difficulties that older and disabled workers and jobseekers confront in a youth-oriented culture."

"Nonetheless, success in battling age and disability discrimination in the workplace is often a matter of two steps forward, one step back. Missouri House Bill No. 628 contemplates several steps backward—setting caps on damages, shielding offending employers from responsibility for their discriminatory actions, and depriving Missouri's workers of fair treatment in state courts. Nobody who cares about older workers can be in favor of this bill. Discriminating employers should not be given free reign to indulge their discriminatory impulses. The issue takes on even greater resonance in the context of a national labor force one half of which is now age 40-plus and thus covered by anti-bias employment laws."

"AARP urges the Missouri legislature to reject HB 628. "

------------------ END OF AARP STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION TO HB628 ---------------------
View AARP's statement at Statement by AARP Opposing Missouri HB 628.


House Bill 628 has been introduced by Representative Richard Byrd, (R-Kirkwood) to amend the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). The MHRA is the primary civil rights law in Missouri, which prohibits discrimination based upon age, race, sex, national origin, color, ancestry, religion, disability, and in some cases family status, and which also prohibits retaliation for complaining of violations.

Overview of some of the biggest problems with HB 628

(The following is based on the state of affairs as of March 25, 2005)
  • HB 628 severely limits the remedies available against employers who are found guity of illegal discrimination
  • HB 628 allows employers to discriminate against employees based on family status (How pro-family is THAT?)
  • HB 628 encourages employers to retaliate against employees for complaining of illegal discrimination


Jump to the following subparts:


Introduction to how HB 628 came to exist,
and attempts to prevent meaningful debate

The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) chapter in St. Louis, along with its growing coalition of supporters, strongly opposes the passage of House Bill 628 as a measure to strip away the rights of workers. House Bill 628 has been introduced by Representative Richard Byrd, (R-Kirkwood) to amend the Missouri Human Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based upon age, race, sex, national origin, color, ancestry, religion, disability, and which prohibits retaliation.

Protection of our civil rights should be a bi-partisan issue. Companies that break the law and discriminate do not deserve special rights from the Missouri legislature.

Status of HB628:

With lightning quickness after introduction on February 23, 2005, HB628 passed the House Judiciary and Rules Committee on March 10 and March 17. We think Rep. Byrd mischaracterized the nature of this bill to his fellow legislators, to try to avoid generating a vigorous opposition. The bill will make drastic changes to the present law that protects employees from unlawful discrimination.

Since Rep. Byrd was successful in keeping this radical bill under the radar screen, the only groups that spoke in favor of this bill were the business lobbyists who were alerted to the Judiciary committee hearing on March 8, 2005. Not one Missouri citizen testified in favor of this bill. This bill only provides relief to companies that a jury finds broke the law and discriminated against an employee.

The bill is not yet on the House calendar. The legislature comes back in to session on March 29, 2005. HB628 is set for four hours of debate on the house floor. If it passes the House, it will then go to the Missouri Senate. The bill must be passed by both chambers by May 13, 2005, or it will not go to Governor Blunt's desk.

Action Steps to try to stop the radical anti-worker HB628:

  1. Join Our Coalition

    If you or your organization that cares about the civil rights of Missouri workers would like to join our coalition and plan for a lobby day in Jefferson City this April, please contact Lois Spritzer or Matt Ghio with the contact information at the end of this sheet. We are in contact with several organizations and we are trying to build as broad a coalition as possible. We welcome any and all organizations that believe in workplace fairness and the protection of all Missouri workers civil rights.

  2. Please contact your state representative and senator and oppose HB628. You can use the summary paragraph below as a talking point and/or add your own story of discrimination in the workplace.
    Who's your Missouri State Senator? - lookup here
    Who's your Missouri State Representative? - lookup here

  3. Please contact Governor Blunt and tell him that you oppose preferential treatment for companies that violate Missouri workers civil rights.
    Office of the Governor
    Room 216, State Capitol Building
    Jefferson City MO 65101
    Telephone: (573) 751-3222
    Email: mogov@mail.state.mo.us
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper.


Fact Sheet: Reasons to Oppose House Bill 628

HB628 simply goes too far. Companies that discriminate against Missouri workers do not deserve special protection from the consequences of their actions. Leave the Missouri Human Rights Act alone. It has worked well for almost 20 years. Don't fix what isn't broken!

  • The business lobby is trying to weaken state protections by amending the language and definitions used in the Missouri Human Right Act.
  • HB 628 changes the definition of employer and substantially limits who may be held liable for discrimination.
  • It limits damages for future lost wages, future insurance and pension contributions for a wrongfully terminated employee to as little as $50,000.
  • It strips away the court's equitable power to fully compensate employees for their losses.
  • It narrows the circumstances in which an employee can sue for retaliation.
  • The proposed changes in this bill will deprive Missouri citizens of their right to a jury trial in the state court in the county where they live, and force their cases into the federal courts in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield.
  • In the Federal courts of Missouri, nearly all cases brought under the Americans with Disability Act are resolved in favor of the employer with that vast majority of cases being dismissed and never reaching a jury trial. That is why we need to preserve our rights under the Missouri Human Rights Act as it currently exists.
  • No government employee could be awarded punitive damages no matter how badly they are treated
  • It limits the sum total amount for losses which may be awarded for emotional distress damages, punitive damages, and future lost wages and benefits of employment to between $50,000 and $300,000, regardless of the amount of loss to the employee or the worth of the company.



Detailed critique HB 628,
focusing on weakened Race Discrimination protections

Millions of Missouri citizens are protected by the Missouri Human Rights Act. Members of every race, national origin and ancestry rely on the Act to protect them from discrimination in the workplace. Richard Byrd is trying to erode this protection by pushing for the passage of House Bill 628.

House Bill 628 would hurt people who depend the Missouri Human Rights Act for fair treatment at work. Employers often deny hard working people fair pay and promotions and even discharge them simply because of their race or national origin. When this happens, we should be able to go to our local court and seek justice. The sponsors of House Bill 628 want to shield discriminating employers. House Bill 628 essentially makes it cheaper to discriminate.

    Here's how:

  • House Bill 628 adopts the federal caps from Title VII that were placed on non-economic damages 13 years ago. With caps this low, employers will not be deterred from engaging in the cruelest of harassment and discrimination. For instance, employers could burn crosses at company events without worrying that a jury will punish them.

  • It shields tax exempt employers run by religious organizations such as universities, private schools, and hospitals. Yet, these employers are as likely to discriminate as tax paying employers who can be held liable.

  • This bill changes the definition of employer to shield individuals who engage in discriminatory conduct from personal liability. Personal accountability is an important deterrent to discrimination and harassment. This bill eliminates that deterrent and allows a person who violates the law to avoid personal responsibility.

  • This bill puts caps on the recovery of future lost wages and lost benefits a wrongfully terminated person suffers due to the wrongful termination. Federal anti-discrimination laws do not cap these losses.

  • This bill would prevent government employee from receiving punitive damages no matter how badly they are treated by their employers.

House Bill 628 would deprive victims of race discrimination of fair treatment in their local state court and force more cases into the federal court. Lawsuits in federal court are more difficult and more expensive for employees. Employers prefer to defend themselves in federal court because they often succeed in getting discrimination claims dismissed in federal court. In the past, federal court judges were receptive to civil rights claims. That is no longer true.

    The following are examples of recent cases that were dismissed without trial in federal court:

  • In Bainbridge v. Loffredo Gardens, Inc., 378 F.3d 756 (8th Cir. 2004), the plaintiff sued his former employer alleging hostile work environment based on racial comments and retaliation. Plaintiff, whose wife was Japanese, alleged he was fired for complaining to his supervisor about racial epithets for Asians and other minorities used by the employer's owners and operators. Plaintiff contended the company's owners made racially offensive remarks about Asians ("Jap," "nip," "gook") approximately once a month during his two years of employment despite their knowledge that his wife was Japanese. Plaintiff also contended the owners used racial slurs referring to other minorities, including "spic," "wetback," "monkey," and "nigger." The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the employer on the hostile work environment claim, holding that the racial slurs did not render the work environment objectively hostile because the remarks were sporadic and were not about the employee or his wife.

  • In Woodland v. Joseph T. Ryerson & Son, Inc., 302 F.3d 839 (8th Cir. 2002), a black production worker sued his former employer alleging racially hostile work environment and retaliation. The employee presented evidence that several years ago copies of a "poem" with racist, sexist, and homophobic messages were strewn about the plant. He also presented evidence that in 1996 racist graffiti drawings of KKK, a swastika, and a hooded figure appeared on the walls of one of the men's restrooms at the plant. The Eighth Circuit found that while the incidents were offensive, they did not subjectively affect the conditions of employee's employment. The court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer, holding that the sporadic racially-motivated misconduct by his coworkers was neither severe nor pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment and that the employer promptly and adequately responded to the incidents brought to its attention.

  • In Jacob-Mua v. Veneman, 289 F.3d 517 (8th Cir. 2002), plaintiffs sued the United States Department of Agriculture alleging race discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation. The employee making the hostile work environment claim presented evidence that: (1) her co-workers caused her to feel isolated in her work environment, (2) a co-worker yelled at her and threw keys at her, and (3) a co-worker asked her questions such as "how often do you wash your hair, how much does it cost to braid your hair, and when are you going back to Africa? The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the employer, holding that the employee had failed to establish a co-worker hostile work environment claim because she had not presented evidence that her employer or supervisor knew or should have known of the racially harassing conduct.

In short, House Bill 628 attempts to limit the rights of people to seek relief when their employers engage in racially discriminatory conduct against them. This is not tort reform. A violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act is not a tort involving an act of negligence. Employees suing under the Missouri Human Rights Act have to prove their employer engaged in intentional conduct. Our Legislature should be reluctant to shield a defendant who would be liable only with proof of intentional race discrimination.




Detailed critique HB 628,
focusing on weakened Sex Harassment protections

Millions of Missouri citizens are protected by the Missouri Human Rights Act. Women of every race, national origin and ancestry rely on the Act to protect them from discrimination in the workplace. Richard Byrd is trying to erode this protection by pushing for the passage of House Bill 628.

As tax payers, we support a judicial system we rely upon to be there for us when we need it. House Bill No. 628 would close the court house doors to some of us when our employers discriminate against us. Others would get through but when we are done, even if a jury wants to award us a complete and fair remedy for what we have suffered, this bill would limit what a jury could do to help us.

House Bill 628 would hurt women who depend the Missouri Human Rights Act for fair treatment at work. Some employers continue to deny hard working women fair pay and promotions, and even discharge them simply because of outmoded stereotypes, reliance on the "old boys' network," or assumptions about the effects of pregnancy and motherhood on a working woman. There are also employers who ignore or condone behavior that is demeaning to women, creating a work environment that is hostile and intolerable for female employees. When this happens, we should be able to go to our local court and seek justice. The sponsors of House Bill 628 want to shield discriminating employers. House Bill 628 essentially makes it cheaper to discriminate.

    Here's how:

  • 1 House Bill 628 adopts the federal caps from Title VII that were placed on non-economic damages 13 years ago. With caps this low, employers will not be deterred from engaging in the cruelest of harassment and discrimination. For instance, employers could openly target women with misogynistic comments in the work place or hire strippers to company events without worrying that a jury will punish them.

  • 2 This bill changes the definition of employer to shield individuals who engage in discriminatory conduct from personal liability. Personal accountability is an important deterrent to discrimination and harassment. This bill eliminates that deterrent and allows a person who violates the law, such as a sexual harasser, to avoid personal responsibility.

  • 3 This bill puts caps on the recovery of future lost wages and lost benefits a wrongfully terminated person suffers due to the wrongful termination. Federal anti-discrimination laws do not cap these losses.

  • 4 This bill would prevent government employees from receiving punitive damages no matter how badly they are treated by their employers.

House Bill 628 will deprive victims of sex-based discrimination of fair treatment in their local state court and force more cases into the federal court. Lawsuits in federal court are more difficult and more expensive for employees. Employers prefer to defend themselves in federal court because they often succeed in getting discrimination claims dismissed in federal court.

    The following are examples of recent cases that were dismissed in federal court:

  • In Duncan v. General Motors Corporation, the plaintiff, Ms. Duncan, sued GM alleging hostile work environment, sexual harassment and constructive discharge. Two weeks after Ms. Duncan began her employment, a married male supervisor attempted to seek an intimate relationship with her. After she rejected his advance, he subjected Ms. Duncan to increasingly inappropriate behavior such as specifically showing her his collections of phallic objects (including a child's pacifier that was shaped like a penis), requiring her to "prove her artistic ability" by drawing such phallic objects when she sought a promotion, and asking her to type sexist the beliefs of his "He-men Women Haters Club". Ms. Duncan was finally forced to resign because of the supervisor's behavior. A jury of __ women and __ men unanimously found in favor of Ms. Duncan and awarded her damages, but it only took two federal appellate court judges to reverse the judgment and deprive Ms. Duncan of her remedy. The court held that the supervisor's "boorish, chauvinistic, and decidedly immature" behavior did not give rise to a hostile-work environment claim.

  • In Hocevar v. Purdue Frederick Co., et al., the plaintiff, Ms. Hocevar, sued her former employer alleging hostile work environment and sexual harassment One of her supervisors engaged in hostile behavior in the workplace over a two-year period in which he distributed sexually explicit material at business meetings, made threats of violence towards female staff members, constantly referred to women as "bitches," "fucking bitches," and "fat fucking bitches," told jokes that were derogatory towards women and contained profanity, and claimed that new pharmaceutical products were so exciting a physician would be "creaming his jeans" to get them. Ms. Hocevar cited four other incidents of sexual harassment that occurred over a three year period, all of which involved misogynistic behavior by other male company official. The federal court did not even let Mrs. Hocevar present her sexual harassment to a jury, holding that she failed to establish that the alleged behavior was "unwelcome," that the discrimination "was based on sex" or that the harassment "affected a term, condition or privilege of employment."

  • In Joens v. Morell & Co., the plaintiff, Ms. Joens, sued her employer alleging hostile work environment, sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation. Ms. Joens was employed in the "box shop" where she made box bottoms for various production lines in the plant. Ms. Joens testified that the male foreman would come to the box shop on an almost daily basis to abusively criticize her for not making enough boxes for the cut floor, yelling, swearing, and accusing her of not doing anything, while the men who made box tops during the night shift were not subject to similar criticism. Ms. Joens repeatedly complained of the harassment to the union steward and to various company supervisors, who did nothing. After enduring the abuse for three years, she filed a charge of discrimination and then a lawsuit. The federal court summarily dismissed Ms. Joens' case, opining that she failed to present sufficient evidence that she complained to the company about sex-based harassment. The court further stated that she failed to show that the abuse was so extreme as to amount to "a change in the terms and conditions of employment," or that the alleged harassment "was based on her sex."



For your information:
Who is this NELA group that's all worked up over HB628?

The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) advocates for employee rights and workplace fairness. NELA provides assistance and support to lawyers in protecting the rights of employees against the greater resources of their employers and the defense bar. It is the country's only professional organization that is exclusively comprised of lawyers who represent individual employees in cases involving employment discrimination and other employment related matters. NELA has been at the forefront of major employment issues and promoting the workplace rights of employees through legislation, public policy and amicus curiae activities.

For Further Information and To Volunteer or Join Our Coalition: Contact Lois Spritzer, 314-872-8420, President, National Employment Lawyers Association - St. Louis Chapter, or Matt Ghio, NELA St. Louis member, 314-872-8420 or 314-496-8420 cell (mghio@vccs-law.com)

For more information about NELA contact NELA.org and/or WorkplaceFairness.org.



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