The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has gotten into a spat with Missouri over the state's recent bill lowering the standards for discrimination lawsuits. In response, last week, the NAACP warned women and minorities traveling to Missouri that "they may not be safe."
The bill passed by the legislature would raise the standard required for housing and employment discrimination cases from "contributing factor" to "motivating factor," as well as the removal of certain entities including the US government and private clubs from current discrimination law. The NAACP claimed that it would cause even more discrimination in a state that has already been troublesome in its treatment of discrimination and minorities.
According to the NAACP, the advisory on Missouri goes beyond simply this bill. It took issue with the state's treatment of minorities for decades, even going back as far as the state's admission into the Union as a slave state in the Missouri Compromise of 1819. More recently, the NAACP pointed to a report by the Missouri Attorney General's office released this June finding that in 2014, black drivers were 75 percent more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers.
The NAACP also pointed to recent incidents of racial strife at the University of Missouri, and the 2014 protests against police violence after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a town that the Justice Department found had engaged in systemic racial discrimination for years.
The NAACP insists that "it's not a boycott," according to a member of the Springfield NAACP chapter quoted by The Springfield News-Leader. It is treated instead as a warning for people about the climate in the state.
"Our ongoing issues of racial profiling, discrimination, harassment and excess violence towards people of color have been further exacerbated by the passage and signing of (Senate Bill) 43," Cheryl Clay, the Springfield NAACP president said in a statement to the News-Leader.
The NAACP did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Bustle.
According to Joseph R. Fishkin, a Professor at University of Texas at Austin Law School who specializes in discrimination law, the actual change between "contributing factor" and "motivating factor" will likely have little change on actual discrimination cases, since both standards are lower than the standard of "but-for cause," requiring that plaintiffs have to prove that discrimination was the only possible cause of an event.
"If this one change is all that the legislature does to employment law, I suspect the impact is likely to be small," Fishkin tells Bustle via email. "The direction of the change, and its intent, is certainly to try to make things easier for defendants and harder for plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases. Given that, it’s reasonable for the NAACP to oppose the change. But I think this may be a small issue."
On the other hand, Rick Rossein, a professor who specializes in discrimination law at City University of New York Law, sees the potential effects of this law on discrimination as large.
"This law will definitely make it more difficult for people alleging all forms of discrimination, whether it be race, gender, age, disability, under the state of Missouri human rights law." He points to not just the change in legal standard, but also to the caps on damages related to discrimination cases, as well as the exclusion of private clubs and government agencies from being covered. "That battle I thought was about 30 years ago," Rossein tells Bustle.
"It's very difficult to make out a case of discrimination," Rossein adds. "This is going to make it even more difficult under the state law. And certainly, if employers realize that the economic incentive to prevent or stop harassment, and to be proactive in discrimination — it certainly encourages people to be less vigilant. Logically it makes sense that it’s not going to be helpful.
Nevertheless, the NAACP is not treating this as small issue. Missouri state president Rod Chapel told the Associated Press in June that they are considering a full boycott like what the organization enacted against North Carolina after its bill forcing transgender individuals to use the bathroom according to their birth certificate.