Law makes it harder to prove workplace and housing discrimination
By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – Missouri officials were warned that Senate Bill 43 (SB 43), a law making it more difficult to prove workplace and housing discrimination, could jeopardize the state’s participation in the federal Fair Housing Assistance Program, but they didn’t care. Now that bill is law and Missouri stands to lose tens of millions of dollars in coming years.
Joseph A. Pelletier, director of the Fair Housing Assistance Program, in a February letter to Alisa Warren, executive director of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, said the legislation raised “extremely serious concerns.”
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) released a copy of the letter recently and said it makes clear that Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration knew federal funding was at risk but chose not to address the problem.
Greitens signed the controversial bill over the summer.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has since threatened to pull an estimated $500,000 annually in funds connected to the Fair Housing Assistance Program if the Legislature does not repeal problem parts of the law by March 1, 2018.
In addition to the February letter, Beatty said, a fiscal note at the bottom of the bill said SB 43 may conflict with federal law. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reported on HUD’s concerns in April, before lawmakers sent the bill to the governor.
“Instead of fixing the problem when they had the chance, Governor Greitens and Republican legislative leaders chose to ignore it,” Beatty said. “This is nothing short of legislative malpractice, and victims of illegal housing discrimination in Missouri will suffer as a result.”
The bill, sponsored by Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington) and carried in the House by Representative Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton), gutted the Missouri Human Rights Statute, which protects employees who have been discriminated against in the workplace based on their age, ancestry, color, disability, sex, religion, race, or nation of origin.
In addition to its shameful intent of making it easier to discriminate, the bill was also an appalling example of self-dealing.
Romine owns Show-Me Rent-to-Own, a chain of furniture stores in southeast Missouri embroiled in a discrimination lawsuit. The new law will not retroactively affect the case against Romine’s business but it will make it harder for workers to win similar suits in the future.
As a bonus for employers, the new law also alters rules for whistleblowers and puts limits on how employment lawsuits can be filed.
The law was the impetus for a “travel advisory” issued by the NAACP, which said the law was a sign that minorities should be wary when traveling through the state.
Parker Briden, the governor’s spokesman, told the Post-Dispatch he didn’t know whether Greitens knew about the February letter, and referred questions to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which said in a statement it was working to “clear up any apprehension” HUD may have.
Beatty said Democrats planned to promote legislation repealing problem provisions in the law when the Legislature convenes in January.