On April 6, 2011, the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2010 (SB-72) died in House Committee by a close 5-4 vote. SB-72 was a bill similar to previous bills that have been introduced the last two years to amend the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) to allow for compensatory and punitive damages in employment discrimination cases brought under state law.

     CADA was enacted in 1951, and prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on age, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, creed, national origin, or ancestry. CADA applies to Colorado employers of any size, whereas Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Currently, Colorado state law only allows successful plaintiffs to recover equitable damages, including reinstatement and lost wages.

     Momentum for the passage of SB-72 came in part from Colorado’s recent recognition of sexual orientation as a protected class (sexual orientation is not protected under federal law). However, SB-72 would have created substantial unfairness to small businesses in Colorado as punitive damages have been made uninsurable by the Colorado Supreme Court (Lira v. Shelter Insurance (Colo. 1996)). Further, because age also is a protected class under Colorado state law, SB-72 would have allowed state age discrimination plaintiffs to have remedies beyond those available in the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which does not provide for compensatory or punitive damages.

     We expect similar proposed amendments to CADA to be introduced again next year, and we will continue to monitor legislative developments affecting Colorado employers.