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Colorado governor signs anti-discrimination act targeting small employers

May 17th, 2013  |  Deborah Hammonds

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper recently signed the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013.  The anti-discrimination act will allow the additional remedies of compensatory and punitive damages in employment discrimination cases brought under state law against employers where intentional discrimination is proven. These damages would be in addition to the remedies allowed under current law.

“As a former small business owner, I know full well that discrimination in the workplace is the rare exception and not the rule in Colorado,” Hickenlooper commented after signing the act on May 6. While sympathetic to the business community’s concerns of “red tape, needless bureaucracy and frivolous or harassing litigation,” the governor stated that his administration believed that “HB13-1136 has been crafted with safeguards against frivolous lawsuits and excessive damage claims. Moreover, we believe HB13-1136 rightly embraces employment discrimination remedies for companies with fewer than 15 employees that are recognized in most other states.”

“Colorado law already prohibits small business employers from engaging in unfair employment or discriminatory practices, but employees who are victimized by these practices can seek only job reinstatement and back pay for their claims,” he continued. “HB13-1136 expands available remedies for workers to recover compensatory and punitive damages from employers who have intentionally engaged in discriminatory practices. The damage awards are limited to $10,000 for employers with one-four employees, and $25,000 for employers with five-fourteen employees.”

“Among the provisions in HB13-1136 that provide safeguards for small businesses: (1) workers must establish intentional discrimination by the employer; (2) a plaintiff worker must exhaust all administrative remedies before going to court; (3) there is a mandatory process of mediation before going to court; (4) only courts and not administrative law judges are empowered to award damages to plaintiffs; (5) courts may award costs and attorney fees to defendant employers for frivolous claims; and (6) courts must consider the size and assets of defendant employers before awarding damages.”

The effective date for the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013 has been delayed until January 2015 in order to allow for an outreach and public education campaign.