Colorado lawmakers consider expanding liability for discrimination

A Colorado legislative committee recently gave its approval to a proposal that would enhance the legal remedies available to victims of illegal employment discrimination in the workplace, the Denver Business Journal reported.

The measure, known as House Bill 1136, would permit employees of smaller companies - those with fewer than 15 workers - to receive compensatory and punitive damages of up to $50,000 in proven cases of workplace discrimination. The bill would also require smaller companies to pay the attorneys' fees of workers who file successful discrimination claims.

Under current Colorado law, employees of smaller businesses are only entitled to compensation for front and back pay in addition to reinstatement of employment if their discrimination claims are successful. Additional protections such as attorneys' fees and punitive damages are available for employees of larger companies.

Mixed support from Colorado lawmakers

Supporters of House Bill 1136 say it will help bring fairness to Colorado workers, pointing out that employees can be equally harmed by discrimination at small companies and large ones. They also hope that the legislation would empower workers at smaller firms to speak out against discrimination and harassment by making it more financially feasible for them to do so. Under current law, which limits damages and does not provide for reimbursement of legal fees, the cost of pursuing legal action may be prohibitive to some employees of small companies in Colorado.

Opponents of the legislation counter that expanding the liability of small businesses for workplace discrimination would be too costly for employers and would risk putting small companies out of business. Critics of the measure argue that it would raise insurance costs for small business owners and make employers more vulnerable to potentially crippling frivolous lawsuits, pointing out that the cost of defending against even a meritless discrimination claim may be enough to put a small employer out of business.

Proposed law addresses critics' concerns

The bill's authors included provisions designed to address some of the concerns voiced by its opponents. For instance, House Bill 1136 contains language that would permit a small business to collect monetary damages from an employee found to have filed a frivolous lawsuit against the company. This provision would discourage workers from filing unmerited claims aimed at harassing their employers and would provide businesses with a remedy in the event that such claims are filed.

In addition, if passed, the new law would not go into effect until 2015. This would allow small businesses in Colorado enough time to improve their anti-discrimination policies and training, thereby reducing their risk of lawsuits. In addition, according the Denver Business Journal, the proposed legislation would require judges to consider the size and resources of the company, as well as the severity of the alleged discrimination, when awarding damages to employees in discrimination lawsuits.

Seek legal help for workplace discrimination

Colorado employees who have experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace are encouraged to consult with an employment lawyer. An attorney with a background representing victims of workplace discrimination can provide employees with a detailed assessment of their rights and legal options, and can advocate vigorously on their behalf should they choose to pursue legal action.