The latest policy targeted is the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act, which lawmakers on the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee yesterday voted to repeal. Republican members of the committee were joined by Wheat Ridge Democrat Cheri Jahn, who called the state’s Civil Rights Act the “sue your boss” act.
The Act, which just took effect this January, expanded existing federal employee nondiscrimination protections, such as restitution of legal fees and damages, to include small businesses with fewer than 15 employees. In addition, the new protections added coverage for complaints of age- and sexual orientation-based discrimination.
Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, sponsored the repeal, saying the law puts small businesses at too much risk. Her SB 69 would remove the entire state Civil Rights Act, except for the provision protecting employees 70 years or older.
“For most small businesses, just one claim that has to be investigated is all it would take to force a company out of business,” said Woods, noting that just defending against a claim can cost as much as $100,000.
Woods also emphasized that according to 2013-2014 data from the Colorado Civil Rights Division, of the roughly 300 claims of discrimination filed in the last two years, only 17 were found to have probable cause.
Physician and Senator Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, equated that statistic to the number of malpractice lawsuits with merit, arguing that nobody really wants a medical system without any remedies for poor practice.
“I guess I think my role is to represent my constituents, and my constituents are people, not businesses,” said Aguilar. “So I’d have a disagreement with you about who I’m here to protect.”
Forty-two other states have written similar nondiscrimination protections into state law. In Colorado there are caps for the amount of damages an employee can garner from a small business beginning with $10,000, for a company of one to four employees.
The repeal, which passed 6-3, now heads to the appropriations committee.
Rachel Martinez, who faced sexual harassment at a small business, testifies in opposition to the Colorado Civil Rights Act repeal. Seated beside her is the repeal’s sponsor, Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada. Image by Tessa Cheek.