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Ruling Shines Spotlight On Missouri Anti-Discrimination Laws

The Western District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a man's claim of discrimination against his former employer, Cook Paper Recycling Corp., was not covered under Missouri Law.

James Pittman alleged he'd been harassed for years and subsequently fired because he was gay.

In the opinion, Chief Judge James Welch wrote that if the state meant to cover sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination law, it would have said so. 

"No matter how compelling Pittman's argument may be and no matter how sympathetic this court or the trial court may be to Pitman's situation, we are bound by the state of the law as it currently exists," the judge said.

Former State Senator and current Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus says she does not know the specifics of this case, but she’s not surprised by the decision. Justus worked many years as a state legislator to get sexual orientation and gender identity protected by Missouri law. Her colleagues in Jefferson City, she says, are still trying but it hasn't happened yet.

"Missouri law is clear, she says, "that there is no specific protection for LGBT individuals."

Justus says she and supporters of the LGBT community have been trying to pass the Missouri  Non-Discrimination Act, or MONA, for more than a decade.  It adds sexual orientation and gender identity to existing anti-discrimination law.

When Justus was elected in 2007,  she says the legislature wouldn’t even hear the bill. By 2013, she says the bill was passed out of the Senate. She's optimistic it won't be long before the bill becomes law, and believes the winds are shifting on support for LGBT rights.

"When you ask the average citizen on the street in Missouri if someone should be fired because they're gay or kicked out of their housing  or a bus because they're gay or because of their gender identity, virtually everyone will say no."

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