Current law does not permit an award of compensatory or punitive damages or attorney fees and costs to a plaintiff who prevails in a complaint before the Colorado civil rights commission (commission) or in a lawsuit alleging a discriminatory or unfair employment practice under state law, even in cases of intentional discrimination. While federal employment antidiscrimination laws allow such damages in cases where intentional discrimination is found, and allows an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs, only employers who employ 15 or more employees are subject to federal law. Moreover, victims of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are not afforded protections under federal law. Thus, employees who work for employers with fewer than 15 employees or who claim employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are not allowed compensatory or punitive damages and cannot recover reasonable attorney fees and costs when they prove a case of intentional employment discrimination.
Additionally, current law precludes a claim of age discrimination by persons 70 years of age or older.
Section 1 of the bill establishes the "Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013", which would 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, namely, front pay, back pay, interest on back pay, reinstatement or hiring, and other equitable relief that may be awarded. Compensatory damages are to compensate a plaintiff for other pecuniary losses, emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary losses. If the plaintiff shows by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant engaged in a discriminatory or unfair employment practice with malice or reckless indifference to the rights of the plaintiff, the plaintiff may recover punitive damages.
The bill limits the amount of compensatory and punitive damages to the amounts specified in the federal "Civil Rights Act of 1991" and directs the commission or court to consider the size and assets of the defendant and the egregiousness of the intentional discriminatory or unfair employment practice when determining the amount of damages to award the victim.
When a plaintiff claims compensatory or punitive damages in a civil lawsuit, either party to the action is entitled to demand a jury trial. Additionally, the court may award the prevailing plaintiff reasonable attorney fees and costs and, if the court finds that the action was frivolous, groundless, or vexatious, the court may award attorney fees and costs to the defendant.
Section 2 of the bill removes the maximum age limit for purposes of age discrimination claims, thereby permitting persons 70 years of age or older to pursue a claim based on age discrimination.
Section 3 of the bill authorizes the commission to appoint a working group of employers and employees to assist in education and outreach efforts to foster compliance with laws prohibiting discriminatory or unfair employment practices.
The remedies available under the bill would apply to causes of action alleging discriminatory or unfair employment practices accruing on or after January 1, 2015.