In Focus: NAACP’s Missouri Travel Warning Prompted by Workplace Law

New state law makes it harder for workers to prove discrimination claims

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A Missouri law that takes effect on Aug. 28 will make it harder for workers in the state to prove employment discrimination claims. In response, the Missouri NAACP issued a travel advisory warning about the "looming danger" in the state and the potentially violent situations minorities could encounter there.

S.B. 43—which was signed into law in June—amended the Missouri Human Rights Act. Under the current law, an employee has to show that discrimination based on a protected category—such as race or gender—was a contributing factor to an adverse employment action. The new law changes that standard from "a contributing factor" to "the motivating factor."

Lawmakers who supported the bill have said that the new law will bring Missouri's standards in line with other states and help prevent frivolous lawsuits.

The state NAACP's travel advisory, however, says the new law "legalizes individual discrimination and harassment in Missouri and would prevent individuals from protecting themselves from discrimination, harassment and retaliation in Missouri."

 [SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

NAACP's First Travel Advisory

The Missouri NAACP issued the travel advisory in June after lawmakers passed S.B. 43, but the recommendation made recent headlines when the civil rights group's delegates voted to adopt the advisory at the national level. This is the first such travel advisory the group has issued in any state. Missouri NAACP leaders say the advisory is in response to continued racial disparities in the state and S.B. 43 was just the last straw. As an example of racial disparities in the state, the group mentioned Tory Sanders, a black man from Tennessee who took a wrong turn while traveling and wound up dying in a Missouri jail even though he hadn't been accused of a crime. "How do you come to Missouri, run out of gas and find yourself dead in a jail cell when you haven't broken any laws?" asked Rod Chapel, president of the Missouri NAACP. Chapel said the purpose of the advisory is to make people aware of what could happen in Missouri.  (The Chicago Tribune)

Law Aims to Reduce Frivolous Lawsuits

Proponents of S.B. 43 say the new law will help reduce frivolous lawsuits in Missouri.  Republican Gov. Eric Greitens said in a statement that the "motivating factor" standard for employment discrimination claims is what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission uses. "I've met with passionate advocates on both sides of S.B. 43. I respect all of them. I've listened to every side," the statement said. "I believe we need to bring Missouri's standards in line with 38 other states and the federal government." (Fox News)

Legislator Faces Race Bias Lawsuit

Critics of S.B. 43 have scrutinized the motivation behind the new law. Chapel pointed to a race discrimination lawsuit filed against a business owned by the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Gary Romine. In that case, a black former employee claimed (among other things) that his supervisor used racial slurs against him. But Romine said the new law won't affect the claim against his business. "We deliberately did not make the bill retroactive, and the bill didn't include an emergency clause," he said in a statement. "Any claim that the bill benefited my company in a pending case is simply not true." (NBC News)

More Instances of Discrimination

The Missouri NAACP said there have been other discrimination issues in the state that raise concerns. "Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri," the travel advisory states. The group cited campus protests at the University of Missouri in 2015 that were prompted by racist incidents and to the state attorney general's 2016 annual report, which found that police stopped black drivers at a rate 75 percent higher than they stopped white drivers. "Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme caution," the advisory stated. (CNN)

Other Groups Issue Advisories

The NAACP may have just issued its first advisory, but other civil rights groups have supplied similar warnings. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued an advisory in May for Texas that warned travelers about "possible violation of their constitutional rights when stopped by law enforcement." The ACLU also sent out an advisory for Arizona in 2010 in response to a state immigration enforcement law. Typically, the U.S. State Department issues travel advisories to warn citizens about problems they may encounter abroad. Other countries also release such warnings. In 2016, for example, the Bahamas advised its citizens to exercise caution in the U.S., particularly when interacting with police. (The Kansas City Star)

 

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