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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Leveling the Playing Field - Missouri Governor Signs MHRA and Whistleblower Amendments

Last Friday, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed Missouri Senate Bill 43 (SB 43), amending the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) and codifying the requirements for a whistleblower claim under Missouri law. The bill can be found here. This bill, which will become effective on August 28, 2017, represents a significant change in certain employment laws affecting our Missouri clients and will reduce uncertainty for businesses facing discrimination, retaliation and whistleblower claims.

The MHRA amendments in SB 43 adopt the “motivating factor” causation standard for employment discrimination and retaliation claims, abrogating a series of Missouri state court decisions that had imposed the lower “contributing factor” standard. In doing so, SB 43 brings Missouri in line with federal causation standards and requires plaintiffs to prove that unlawful animus motivated the challenged employment decision. SB 43 also adopts federal court evidentiary standards that should make it easier for defendants in MHRA cases to prevail in weak cases without the need for a trial. The amendments further impose caps on non-economic damages that are based on the size of the employer/defendant, ranging from a $50,000 cap for employers with less than 100 employees to a $500,000 cap for employers with more than 500 employees. The bill eliminates individual liability for supervisors — again bringing Missouri law in line with the federal standard — and makes other statutory changes that clarify the timing and administrative process requirements that an employee must complete before pursuing a claim.

SB 43 also codifies, for the first time, the whistleblower cause of action under Missouri law. Prior to this bill, whistleblower claims existed because of common law judicial decisions, not statute. In addition to codifying this claim, SB 43 clarifies the causation requirement for such a case (again adopting the “motivating factor” standard over the lower “contributing factor” standard), imposes damage caps, excludes governmental entities from whistleblower liability,
and clarifies and restricts what kinds of policy violations may give rise to a whistleblower claim.

Because the new law is not effective until August 28 — and because some key provisions of the law may not be applied retroactively — the full effects of SB 43 may not be felt for some time. In the long run, however, SB 43 should help level the playing field for employers in MHRA and whistleblower cases.

The foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation and should not be relied on as such. Please contact one of our labor and employment lawyers if you have any questions. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

This update was prepared by Charles S. Elbert and D. Leo Human.

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