Civil rights bill passes Senate on party-line vote

Workers could see their civil rights protected no matter the size of their workplace after Senate Democrats Monday passed a bill out of the Senate and into the Republican controlled House. With the anti-discrimination bill passing out of the Senate on a party-line vote, the bill’s fate is not yet clear.

SB 72, if passed, would put Colorado amongst 43 other states that no longer allow a business of less than 15 people to be exempt from an employee seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees as part of their awards in discrimination cases.

The law would make it possible for employees of small and large businesses to collect damages and attorney fees under Colorado law in cases where proven intentional discrimination occurs and allows those discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and age to seek the same remedies.

“This bill is simple. It expands civil rights protections to all workers, not just employees of larger companies,” bill sponsor Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said upon the bill’s passage. “Discrimination in the workplace is illegal, and this bill will ensure that every employee has access to legal resources if they are a victim of discrimination.”

Currently in Colorado, employees are protected against workplace discrimination for race, age, gender and sexual orientation among other things. However, they are not allowed to collect punitive damages, compensatory damages or attorney fees even if they prove discrimination in a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission or in Colorado courts. Federal law does allow for individuals to sue employers for such damages but does not protect those who either are employed in a business with fewer than 15 people or are discriminated against due to sexual orientation.

Business organizations in the state are concerned that a rash of new civil-rights cases could lead to some small companies going out of business.

Total remedies from a company with 14 employees or less is capped at $50,000, though the federal law, which the bill is tied to for determining remedy amounts, allows employees of larger organizations, such as the state government, to seek awards of up to $300,000.

Under state law a person who wishes to file a discrimination claim must first do so with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The director decides if the claim has merit, at which point the person can either accept that determination or can file with the appropriate court.

Senate Republicans made no comment on the bill but unanimously voted against it. The final count was 20-15.

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