Opinion - Supreme Court decision hurts Missouri economy

Thursday, February 13, 2003

By Jim Kistler

vice president and director of industrial relations

Associated Industries of Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY -- As if jobs aren't leaving this state fast enough, the Missouri Supreme Court on Jan. 29 went straight for our economy's jugular.

Disregarding nearly half a century of precedent, Missouri's activist Supreme Court declared open season on Missouri businesses in employment discrimination cases. In criticizing the court's ruling, Associated Industries of Missouri noted the long legislative history of this issue and the adverse economic impact this decision will have on our business climate.

Trials by jury for employment discrimination cases will cost Missouri employers millions in jury awards, and cost Missouri a sizable number of jobs. Missouri law has no limit on the size of monetary awards, preventing unreasonable jury verdicts. Cases filed in federal court, where jury trials have always been allowed, limit the size of monetary awards. The possibility of limitless monetary awards in state court will undoubtedly create a new form of lottery, with our businesses and our economy on the losing end.

The question before the court was whether "employment discrimination" was an actionable claim in 1820, at the time Missouri adopted its constitution.

While the state's employment discrimination statutes were enacted in 1961, the Supreme Court ruled lawsuits against discriminatory practices are "analogous" to other claims which existed in 1820. Since the same type of legal actions existed in 1820, the court ruled the Missouri Constitution guaranteed a right to trial by jury in employment discrimination cases.

More disturbing yet were discussions by the court during oral arguments that this same principle could apply in workers' compensation cases.

The court opinion is silent on the issue of workers' compensation.

However, if the court should expand its decision to include workers' compensation claims, employers would be exposed to medical claims and simultaneously to claims for monetary damages through the court system.

"Missouri leads the nation in lost jobs, and the Missouri Supreme Court has just invited the rest of Missouri's economic engine to race for the nearest border," said Gary Marble, president of Associated Industries of Missouri. "Many businesses are just one lawsuit away from closing their doors now."

The Missouri Legislature has annually debated, and rejected, proposals to grant jury trials in employment discrimination cases for at least 30 years. The Missouri Supreme Court simply legislated from the bench, ignoring the clear intentions of the Missouri General Assembly.

As the only state in the union still drowning in recession, the court ruling sends a clear message that Missouri is not yet open for business.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: