Legislature considers ‘sue your boss’ bill

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DENVER -- Opponents of the so-called "sue your boss bill" gathered at the capital Tuesday, calling for Governor John Hickenlooper to veto the bill. They say it puts a target on the back of small business owner.

On the other hand, supporters argue House Bill 1136 makes the workplace safer for all employees of small businesses.

Right now, the legal standards regarding discrimination differ based on how many employees a company has.

If a company with less than 15 employees is sued, it is exempt from paying punitive and compensatory damages, and the plaintiff would only be entitled to front pay, back pay, and their job back. One of the sponsors of HB 1136 is Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora.

She says this bill is long overdue, and helps protect victims from sexual harassment and other offenses. “This bill has been a multi-year effort to close what we call the ‘under 15 gap.'”

Carroll goes on to explain the predicament employees experiencing discrimination might face when looking at legal options. “If my employer has 16 employees I have a remedy, if my employer has 13, I don't.”

But opponents say HB 1136 will only open the door for frivolous lawsuits. Tony Gagliardi is the state president of the National Federation of Independent Business, and says, “House Bill 1136 would make it easier to sue employers under Colorado law for expanded classes of economic damages, as well as for non-economic damages.”

He goes on to say, “These non-economic damages include emotional pain, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.”

In the latest Colorado Civil Rights Division report from 2011, 339 discrimination claims were filed, and 313 were dismissed. Opponents of HB 1136 also say defending cases in court could add up to $150,000 dollars in legal fees alone.

Senator Steve King (R) Mesa County says, "There's a reason the federal government exempts small businesses under 15 employees, and that reason is that small businesses cannot handle $150,000 in litigation fees.”

But Sen. Carroll is adamant that HB 1136 won't lead to more litigation, pointing to the examples set by the 42 other states that have adopted similar laws. “If they looked to the other 42 states, I think they would take great comfort in realizing there hasn’t been that many cases, no-one's gone out of business.”

Carroll adds that in Colorado, employees looking to sue have to show “intentional proof of illegal discrimination,” something that can be very difficult to do during a trial.

In an effort to reach some kind of compromise, HB 1136 sponsors agreed to place a cap of $25,000 on any damages that may be awarded to a plaintiff. Sen. Carroll says there is even more protection for employers, in that, the $25,000 could only be awarded to the plaintiff if the company could afford it.

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