In testimony before lawmakers, James Pittman told his story about losing his job at a paper recycling company in 2011, weeks after he started cohabitating with his boyfriend. Pittman successfully sued his employer, only to have the decision overturned by a state appeals court.
Laws in Missouri protect against employment discrimination based on age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion or sex. However, the state does not provide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Missouri residents the same protection.
Partly in response to the appellate court decision, Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny introduced a bill to bar discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Many Missouri-based companies have joined Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and Republican legislative leaders in backing the bill and heralding it as "pro-business." In particular, the businesses cite the need to be competitive in recruiting high-level candidates. Many professionals are hesitant to live in the community, according to lobbyist Duane Simpson.
The nondiscrimination bill faces opposition from two powerful groups.
Associated Industries of Missouri President and CEO Ray McCarty says that he discourages member businesses from all types of discrimination However, he also predicted businesses facing new lawsuits should the state added a protected class.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry first wants changes to state laws. They want legislators to "raise the bar" for workers to win discrimination lawsuits where gender identity and sexual orientation played a role.
A committee vote is pending before going to the full Senate. Regardless of the outcome, workplace discrimination of any form remains a problem. Employees need skilled legal representation to even the odds they face.