DENVER (CBS4)– People who feel they’ve been discriminated against at work could sue for more money under a bill passes by the Colorado State Legislature.
The bill would apply to small businesses, even those with as few as one employee. Small businesses would feel the biggest impact. The community is calling the measure “Sue Your Boss Bill.”
It increases the amount of damages that workers are entitled to when they sue their employer for discrimination.
Denver Bookbinding Company employees 10 people. Under the current law those who work for a company with 14 or fewer employees are entitled to back pay and the job if a discrimination lawsuit is won.
Under the bill passed at the state Capitol, that same employee would get punitive damages, damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment and attorney fees.
“When you have a small business you put your house on the line, credit cards on the line and you can’t afford to lose that because of frivolous lawsuits,” said Denver Bookbinding Company owner Gail Lindley.
“We’ve made many, many, many amendments and accommodations to the business community,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Morgan Carroll, a Democrat representing Aurora.
Carroll said unlike similar laws in other states this bill mandates employees must prove intentional discrimination.
Damages are capped at $10,000 for companies with one to five employees and $25,000 for those with five to 14 employees.
“Let’s say you’re at a $10,000 cap and if that put the business out of business the jury has been instructed not to award that amount that would put them under,” said Carroll.
“But the employer could still be liable for paying $25,000-$30,000 maybe even more just to defend themselves,” said Small Business attorney Tony Gagliardi.
Gagliardi represents 7,500 small businesses in Colorado. He said less than one percent of companies sued recover those legal fees even when the lawsuits are deemed frivolous.
He said small employers will need expensive liability insurance.
Small businesses are leaning on Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former small business owner himself, to veto the bill. It’s unclear if he will sign the bill.
“We’re going to hold him accountable, this becomes his bill now,” said Gagliardi.
Federal anti-discrimination law exempts businesses with less than 15 employees.
Forty-two other states offer some compensation, mostly for places with more than five people. Carroll claims none of them have seen a rush in litigation as a result.