Former Missouri Employment Chief Sues State, Charges Discrimination
October 29, 2013

AP) – The former director of Missouri’s unemployment benefits agency alleged Monday that she was fired by Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration in retaliation for raising concerns that a Cabinet member was discriminating against women and older employees.

Gracia Backer was replaced in March as director of the Division of Employment Security in Missouri’s labor department. Her ouster came at the same time that Nixon announced he was appointing labor department director Larry Rebman to a new job as an administrative judge in Kansas City.

Nixon said at the time that Rebman had done a “tremendous job” and the change would allow Rebman to return to his hometown. But Nixon never elaborated on Backer’s dismissal.

On Monday, Backer provided The Associated Press with a copy of a discrimination complaint she filed with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. The complaint says that Backer repeatedly told members of Nixon’s administration that Rebman was creating a hostile work environment and was fired 17 days after she sent a formal letter outlining her concerns to Nixon’s administration commissioner.

Discrimination complaints are kept confidential by the Human Rights Commission. But Backer chose to release hers to the AP.

Nixon’s office “knew this was going on and they chose to ignore it,” Backer said in an interview. “They knew the terror that was being laid upon the Division of Employment Security.”

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said in an email that Backer’s discrimination complaint is being “addressed in the normal course of personnel proceedings” and declined further comment.

Backer’s complaint seeks to have her job restored with back wages and benefits and asks for unspecified damages for the “public humiliation and embarrassment” of being fired.

Backer, 63, of New Bloomfield, is a former Democratic state lawmaker who in 1996 became the first woman to serve as Missouri House majority leader. She lost a primary for lieutenant governor in 2000 and served as the Employment Security director from 2001 to 2005 and again from 2009 until her firing earlier this year.