Legislation passed by the Missouri General Assembly this term will have a significant impact on Missouri schools. First, the General Assembly quickly passed a right-to-work bill that Governor Greitens signed into law less than a month after his inauguration. Second, on June 30, 2017, Governor Greitens signed a bill into law changing the requirements for state employment discrimination claims and providing a statutory basis for whistleblower suits.

Missouri Right-to-Work Law

The right-to-work law prohibits requiring union membership or the payment of union dues as a condition of employment. Current union employees must affirmatively revoke any existing agreements about dues in accordance with their collective bargaining agreement or other labor agreement. School districts with unionized employees may see the unions’ influence diminish if a large number of employees choose to stop paying their dues. The law does not take effect for purposes of prohibiting agreements requiring dues until August 28, 2017.

Immediately after Governor Greitens signed the bill into law, a union federation (AFL-CIO) submitted a referendum petition with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office about right-to-work in Missouri. This means that if AFL-CIO can compile enough signatures for a referendum, then the people of Missouri will vote in the November 2018 election on whether to keep right-to-work.

For more information on right-to-work legislation, see Husch Blackwell’s blog post Right-To-Work in Missouri – What Does It All Mean?

Employment Litigation Reform

The most recent piece of Missouri legislation likely to affect school districts is Senate Bill 43, which adopts significant changes to the way state courts are to analyze employment discrimination claims, provides punitive damages caps, and codifies a whistleblower cause of action. The General Assembly passed SB43 on May 8, 2017, despite bipartisan opposition. Governor Greitens signed the bill into law on June 30, 2017. The law will take effect on August 28, 2017.

The bill abrogates the current “contributing factor” standard in favor of a higher “motivating factor” standard for when discrimination is actionable. SB43 also explicitly requires courts to “rely heavily” upon judicial interpretations of federal anti-discrimination statutes and specifies certain federal case law that Missouri courts should consider in various circumstances. The bill’s adoption of punitive damages caps, which is dependent on an employer’s number of employees, will provide clearer expectations to employers facing discrimination lawsuits. In addition, the bill’s whistleblower cause of action prohibits the recovery of punitive damages for whistleblower claims.

Missouri school districts may not see direct effects of the new law unless they face an employment discrimination or whistleblower lawsuit. In that event, employees would have to meet a higher standard to meet in order to succeed on such a claim.

In sum, the labor and employment legislation enacted by the Missouri General Assembly this year and signed by the Governor means changes in the labor and employment landscape for Missouri school districts. We are monitoring these issues and will continue to provide updates to keep you informed.