Critics warn Missouri law could make discrimination cases tougher

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Sexual misconduct is all over the news cycle, and it has caused more people to think about inappropriate actions they’ve experienced or observed. But, a new law, in effect since August, might make it harder for people to pick a legal battle.

“Senate Bill 43” doesn’t deal with sexual assault, but it does raise the bar for people who claim they’ve been discriminated against.

This is a wide-reaching change, affecting workplaces and service industries. To win a discrimination suit, the plaintiff has to prove that discrimination was the “motivating” factor, whereas they previously had to prove it was a “contributing” factor.

Employment attorneys say this could make these cases tougher to win.

“They made it more difficult,” Springfield employment attorney Tim Ricker says. “How the courts are going to go with that, I don't know. The definition is not very clear.”

For example, if an employer decided to fire an employee because the person was old, and fired that employee after showing up to work late as a cover-up, then the employee would need to prove that age was the “motivating” factor, and not tardiness.

Ricker says reporting any harassment or discrimination to human resources is crucial.

“You should definitely do that because if you don't you're not creating a record, you're not making sure the behavior is changed in the future,” he said.

Karen Shannon, a 20-year human resources professional and a member of the Springfield Area Human Resources Association, says employers should offer that.

“It's important for employees to know who to go to,” she said. “If they're the recipient of inappropriate behavior, and even if they're just a third party of a situation observing that type of behavior.”

The law has spurred criticism from several parts of the country. The NAACP issued a travel warning to Missouri, and the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development says certain provisions disqualify Missouri from hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal funds.

State representatives say they are looking into those complaints.

Gov. Eric Greitens signed the bill on June 30, and it took effect August 28. At the time, he said it would put Missouri in line with 38 other states.

You can read the 22-page bill by clicking here.