Missouri Chamber of Commerce wants to Protect Racists & Others

Unbelievably, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce is trying to get the Missouri Legislature to pass a bill which would protect people who discriminate at work on the basis of race, sex, handicap and other illegal criteria.  The bill, called SB592, is sponsored by Republican State Senator Brad Lager.  It says, among other things, that if an employee files a lawsuit because of racial or other illegal discrimination, they are not allowed to sue the person who discriminated against them, but can only sue their employer.

Please contact your Missouri State Legislators and ask them to vote against this and any other bill that gives anyone immunity and prevents them from being held accountable for their actions.  (Here’s a link to look up who your State Senator is:  http://www.senate.mo.gov/llookup/leg_lookup.aspx)

For the Republicans, a party whose core beliefs include that people must take responsibility for their actions and be held accountable, supporting this bill flies in the face of all party values and logic.  The real reason Sen. Lager and big businesses are taking this absurd position is, of course, money.  Getting the individual out of the lawsuit completely changes the rules which will be applied to decide the lawsuit, and make it much easier for illegal discrimination to go unpunished. 

Below is an e-mail which I sent to Senator Dixon explain why the bill is unfair to Missouri citizens and why he should please vote against it:

Dear Senator Dixon,

I write to you to ask you to please vote against SB592. As an attorney who does practice in the area of employment discrimination law, I know something about this arena and the current rules which apply. I believe that you have been told SB592 is necessary for businesses to “level the playing field” or otherwise help business. That’s simply not true.

To me, there are two primary reasons why this bill should not pass. To illustrate this point, looked please consider a hypothetical example where illegal discrimination definitely occurred.

First, it is fundamentally unfair in that situation to let the person who actually committed illegal discrimination off the hook, as SB592 would. They should be forced into court as a defendant and held publicly accountable for their actions. To make sure that they and others have an incentive to not engage in this kind of conduct, they should face the risk of losing their own personal assets if they are found to have engaged in illegal discrimination. To do otherwise makes these people unaccountable.

In an age where people who are in favor of “tort reform” claim that there is no personal accountability these days, it is directly in conflict with that mantra for them to now sponsor legislation which shields individuals from being accountable for their actions, as SB592 does.

The second reason is a little bit more complicated. SB592’s sponsors’ desire to make sure these individual citizens are not named as defendants in discrimination lawsuits really has to do with businesses’ desire to “forum shop” to get the case into a more favorable court system.  They are engaging in the exact same kind of “forum shopping” that they complained about and passed new laws in 2005 to prevent. (“Forum shopping” occurs when someone tries to make sure a lawsuit gets heard in a particular location because the rules favor them and hurts the other side.)

The Missouri Supreme Court has held that in employment discrimination cases, summary judgment (which is where a judge throws out a lawsuit without trial) should only rarely be granted, primarily because it’s so frequently a “he said-she said” type of situation where a jury needs to actually listen to all of the testimony and evaluate the credibility of each person to reach a fair decision. By contrast, in Federal Court, judges are much more likely to throw out cases without ever even listening to the actual testimony of the witnesses. In employment cases, there is therefore usually a fight as to which court system to be in, because employers typically want cases held in Federal Court where judges are more likely to substitute their own judgment for a jury’s. We therefore need to look at how a case can end up in Federal Court.

Under the “diversity of citizenship” rules, a lawsuit can be removed from Missouri State court and transferred into Federal court if no person suing is from the same state as any defendant being sued.  This is called “complete diversity of citizenship” and it is required in order to transfer the case into Federal Court. If any of the defendants are from the same state as any plaintiff, complete diversity is not present and the case stays in Missouri State court.

Please consider an example. If a Missouri citizen sues both (i) her supervisor (also a Missouri citizen) and (ii) the employer (a Delaware corporation, for example) claiming sexual harassment in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act, that case may not properly be transferred to Federal Court, since plaintiff and her supervisor are both from Missouri.

SB592’s provision that prevent the discriminated-against worker from suing her supervisor personally are designed to make sure that the case ends up in Federal Court, not Missouri State court. By preventing the supervisor (who is almost always from the same state as the people they are supervising) from being sued, this bill perversely prevents Missouri courts from getting involved in cases claiming violation of Missouri’s laws! In addition, if it were to pass, SB592 would favor out-of-state businesses over Missouri businesses, since only out-of-state businesses with workers here would be able to use their out-of-state citizenship to move cases into Federal Court.

The people who should be protected are Missouri’s citizens who have been discriminated against, not those who illegally discriminated against them.  SB592 is driven by a desire to make sure that juries never get to hear any testimony at all, and to let judges substitute their own opinion for a jury’s, despite the constitutional guarantee to a jury trial. If a particular claim or lawsuit has no merit, let the jury decide that, not an unaccountable Federal judge who holds his job for life.

My clients and I sincerely thank you for considering these thoughts as you make a decision on what to do in this matter. We put our faith and trust in you to do the right thing.

Very truly yours,

Robert D. Curran
Curran Law Firm
3516 S. National Ave.
Springfield, MO 65807
(417) 823-7500