The discrimination fix

Most employers, we believe, are conscientious about trying to prevent discrimination against workers on the basis of race, religion, gender or physical capabilities. But it would be foolish to believe discrimination never occurs.

When it does, workers ought to have a legitimate legal remedy. The law should assess real penalties against employers who intentionally discriminate, not allow them to get off by simply reimbursing discrimination victims for back pay and interest.

House Bill 1269, by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, appears to be a solid step toward providing that remedy.

Levy’s bill allows workers who believe they are victims of discrimination to seek compensatory and punitive damages in state court — with monetary limits based on the size of the employer — not just back pay. That would put some teeth in state law and make employers think twice about violating anti-discrimination law.

It’s no surprise that business groups are worried about the bill. But the greatest fear is not having to pay the damages. Rather, it is the attorney fees that may accumulate in trying to fend off such lawsuits, and the possibility plaintiffs’ lawyers will try to use those accumulating fees to force big settlements.

One way to remedy that is to adopt the “English rule,” in which the losing side must pay the fees of the prevailing side. That would discourage plaintiffs from filing cases with little merit.

Levy’s bill allows a judge to assess attorney fees against the losing side, but that provision should be made mandatory, not left to the discretion of a judge. Then HB 1269 could be passed and provide more protection to workers, along with protection for employers against frivolous lawsuits.


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