On the Hot Seat: Jay Nixon and Labor Discrimination

The Missouri Gubernatorial race this year is a no-incumbent race. Despite that, some Missourians are working very hard to draw attention to the sitting governor. Not for the first time, governor Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon is facing litigation in Mo. courts.

This most recent case has been filed by the attorneys of Ms. Gracia Backer, a long time public servant, who held, along with other various public positions, a seat in the Mo. Senate as a Democrat from District 20. She served over nine terms. Backer’s case was filed in June of 2014, under the title “Workplace Discrimination.”

When 2013 began, Backer was an employee of the Mo. Department of Labor. By the end of that same year, she was not. After she was terminated by Governor Nixon, with whom she had spent a number of years in state government, she grappled to find a substantial reason for her firing. Backer says she quickly recognized this as a political maneuver, meant to shield her supervisor, then Department of Labor Director Larry Rebman. Rebman was accused of discriminatory behavior against his female employees, his derision and abuse increasingly harsh, relative to the age of the woman.

According to the Kansas City Star, the case file lays out how Backer joined others in repeatedly reporting poor workplace conduct on the part of Rebman, calling him a “monster,” and expressing concern that the poor conduct of Rebman may reflect poorly on Governor Nixon. She alleged to go so far as to complain to the governor’s former Chief of Staff, John Watson, and other members of the Gubernatorial cabinet on multiple occasions.

Then, never having received any response to her complaints, Backer was terminated. On the same day, Larry Rebman was appointed a seat as a judge in Kansas City.

Backer accused Nixon of removing her from the department and moving Rebman to the judicial branch as a way to take care of the women who spoke out against Rebman. When Governor Nixon denied having ever received word of these complaints, Backer’s party responded by raising the possibility that Nixon’s staff had created a shield by diverting the flow of information in order to maintain plausible deniability for the governor.

In recent years, cases like this are not unprecedented in the state. In fact, several similar cases have been litigated and even won. Shortly before Backer’s attorney filed her case, a jury awarded one Timothy Barber with $1.14 million in damages for unlawful, age-discriminatory termination from a senior position at the Department of Public Safety.

More recently, in June of 2016, it was recommended by a jury that the senior advisor to the Commissioner for Veteran Outreach be awarded $2.875 million in damages after being fired in a case of what they deemed to be clear gender based discrimination.

Cases like these set a precedent, which plays to Backer’s advantage. If Backer wins her case, it will add to the pressure upon the governor, in addition to other high profile attacks on his character, such as accusations of violations of the separation of powers, vis-à-vis a targeted underfunding of Mo. public defenders. The trial for Backer’s Claim will be held 30 Sept. at noon.


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