Governor Signs Bill Expanding Civil Rights Remedies under Colorado Law, Remedies Not Immediately Available

Yesterday, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013, HB13-1136, expanding the remedies available to employees who prevail in employment discrimination cases. Although the Act takes effect 90 days after the end of the current legislative session, which will be August 7, 2013, the new remedies are not immediately available and apply to causes of action accruing on or after January 1, 2015. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission is charged with creating a working group to develop an outreach plan by January 1, 2014, to educate employers to comply with the new law.

The Act amends the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) to allow prevailing employees to recover compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees and costs. Although federal civil rights laws generally allow recovery of these amounts, the legislature felt that this bill was needed because federal law only covers employers with 15 or more employees and because sexual orientation discrimination is not currently prohibited by federal law. The Act also removes the maximum age limit of 70 years from the CADA and allows persons over age 70 to bring age-discrimination claims under state law.

These remedies are in addition to those currently available under the CADA. These remedies will only be available where intentional discrimination is proved—not disparate impact claims. The Act says that compensatory and punitive damages will not be awarded where the employer can show a good-faith effort to prevent discrimination or to identify and provide reasonable accommodation. However, what constitutes a good-faith effort is not defined.  

The Act adopts the same limits on compensatory and punitive damages used in the federal Civil Rights Act of 1991 for employers with 15 or more employees and sets new limits for employers with fewer than 15 employees. Damages are limited to $10,000 for employers with one to four employees, and $25,000 for employers with five to 14 employees.

These remedies are not meant to be in addition to what an employee might recover under similar federal law claims. Therefore, if an employee recovers compensatory and punitive damages under federal law, he or she would not receive additional amounts for the same claim under state law.    

This law is expected to drive more civil rights claims to the state court system, which generally works faster and is less costly than the federal court system. The increased remedies are also expected to generate additional discrimination claims against employers. To prepare, employers may wish to review their anti-discrimination and harassment policies and to provide training to supervisors and employees.