A proposal to increase legal remedies for employee discrimination at small businesses in Colorado got initial approval by House Democrats on Wednesday, drawing strong opposition from Republicans who argue it will hurt employers.
Democrats say the bill’s goal is to extend legal relief to some employees that are not covered now. Currently, employees at companies with fewer than 15 workers can sue for discrimination, but the law limits what a court can award them.
For example, employees at smaller companies who prove they were discriminated against can’t get compensatory or punitive damages, and they can’t recover reasonable attorneys’ fees. However, they are allowed to get back pay and their jobs back if they successfully prove discrimination.
Only businesses with 15 or more employees are subject to the federal law that allows for damages beyond the reinstatement of a job and back pay, according to the Colorado bill.
“All businesses should play by the same rules, be held to the same standards,” said Democratic Rep. Claire Levy, one of the bill sponsors. She said most states have already adopted laws similar to what Colorado is proposing.
Under the bill, employees at companies with five to 14 workers would be limited to receiving up to $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. At businesses with four or fewer employees, the cap would be $10,000.
Republicans argue the bill will lead to more lawsuits and they derisively called it the “Trial Lawyers’ Employment Act of 2013.”
Republican Rep. Brian DelGrosso said there are “a lot of things that are very damaging to employers in this bill that could cause a lot of small businesses in the state of Colorado to go out of business.”
Democrats who control the House gave initial approval to the bill after several hours of debate, and more than a dozen unsuccessful attempts from Republicans to amend the proposal.
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