Colorado Capitol Report

Colorado Chamber Members’ Input Needed: Senate Bill to Add Inflation Factor to Civil Lawsuit Damage Limits to be Heard Monday


Colorado Chamber Members’ Input Needed: Senate Bill to Add Inflation Factor to Civil Lawsuit Damage Limits to be Heard Monday

A bill, SB-109, which was introduced on January 31st, would adjust, to account for inflation, the limits on damages awarded in such civil lawsuits as wrongful deaths, illegally serving alcohol or noneconomic loss or injury.

Colorado Chamber members, who have concerns about this bill, are encouraged to contact Loren Furman, Colorado Chamber Senior Vice President, State and Federal Relations, as soon as possible at 303.866.9642.

The legislature must act to change the damage limits for civil lawsuits.  This bill, however, would put an inflation adjustment for the limits on automatic pilot, and no legislative action would be required afterwards.

The bill is scheduled to be heard Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which convenes at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Committee Room 352.

The bill has notable Democrat leadership support: Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder) and House Majority Leader Alec Garnett (D-Denver).

The bill’s summary, written by non-partisan Legislative Council staff, simply states:

The limitations on the amount of damages for unlawfully serving alcohol, for noneconomic loss or injury, and for wrongful death were last adjusted for inflation on January 1, 2008. The bill adjusts those damage limitations for inflation on January 1, 2020, and each January 1 every 2 years thereafter.

A Fiscal Note for the bill has not yet been released.

For those not familiar with the term “noneconomic damages” and the other two major categories of damages, here’s an explanation of economic, non-economic and punitive damages from the Web site of the American College of Surgeons:

Economic damages refers to compensation for objectively verifiable monetary losses such as past and future medical expenses, loss of past and future earnings, loss of use of property, costs of repair or replacement, the economic value of domestic services, and loss of employment or business opportunities.

Non-economic damages refers to compensation for subjective, non-monetary losses such as pain, suffering, inconvenience, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Punitive damages refers to damages awarded for the purpose of punishment — to deter intentional or reckless behavior or actions motivated by malice. Punitive damages are neither economic nor non-economic damages, as they are not awarded to compensate any loss.


“Equal Pay for Equal Work” Bill Raises Concerns for Colorado Chamber of Commerce

On January 23rd, the Colorado Chamber’s Labor and Employment Council voted to oppose SB 85 known as the “Equal Pay for Equal Work” bill as introduced.  The bill’s sponsors and proponents of the bill have expressed a willingness to work with the Colorado Chamber on the legislation to address its concerns.  The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge) and Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) in the Senate and Representative Janet Buckner (D – Aurora) in the House.  The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee but it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The summary of the bill by non-partisan Legislative Council staff is as follows:

The bill removes the authority of the director of the division of labor standards and statistics in the department of labor and employment (director) to enforce wage discrimination complaints based on an employee’s sex and instead permits an aggrieved person to bring a civil action in district court to pursue remedies specified in the bill.  The bill allows exceptions to the prohibition against a wage differential based on sex if the employer demonstrates that a wage differential is based upon one or more factors, including:

  • A seniority system;
  • A merit system; or
  • A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production.

The bill prohibits an employer from:

  • Seeking the wage rate history of a prospective employee;
  • Relying on a prior wage rate to determine a wage rate;
  • Discriminating or retaliating against a prospective employee for failing to disclose the employee’s wage rate history; and
  • Discharging or retaliating against an employee for actions by an employee asserting the rights established by the bill against an employer.

The bill requires an employer to announce to all employees employment advancement opportunities and job openings and the pay range for the openings. The director is authorized to enforce actions against an employer concerning transparency in pay and employment opportunities, including fines of between $500 and $10,000 per violation.

Colorado Chamber’s Concerns

The Colorado Chamber, having analyzed the bill, has concerns that the bill removes the state administrative process that has been in place for years that allows a worker to file a wage-discrimination complaint against an employer with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE).  Additionally, the requires an employer to post all job openings and promotional opportunities along with the pay range.

An employer would also be prevented from asking a job applicant about his or her “prior wage rate history” or from relying “on the wage rate history of a prospective employee to determine a wage rate.” An employer who was found by the director of the labor standards division in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to have violated this provision would be subject to “fines of between $500 and $10,000 per violation.”


Damages

The bill includes provisions for legal remedies including allowing a State district court to award “economic damages” to the worker.  These damages would be the “amount that the employer paid to the complaining employee and the amount that the employee would have received had there been no violation . . . “ The bill would also allow the court to award “liquidated damages” in an amount equal to the economic damages.  It defines the term to mean “damages to compensate an employee for the delay in receiving amounts due as a result of an employer’s violation of this Article 5.”

The bill goes on to state:

“If the employer demonstrates that the act or omission giving rise to the violation was in good faith and that the employer has reasonable grounds for believing that the employer did not violate section 8-5-102 (1), the court need not award liquidated damages or may award an amount less than the employee’s economic damages.”

In brief, if a court finds an employer to have acted in “good faith,” the court can still award liquidated damages to the worker.

Finally, the employer could be liable for “legal and equitable relief, which may include employment, reinstatement, promotion, pay increase, payment of lost wage rates and liquidated damages. . .”  The employer would also be liable for the worker’s “reasonable costs, including attorney fees.”  The worker would not be liable, however, for the employer’s legal and related costs if (a) the case was decided in the employer’s favor or (b) in the case of a frivolous lawsuit dismissed by the court.

The Proponents

The lead proponent of the bill is the Colorado Women’s Bar Association and their “fact sheet” details its support.  Other supporters of SB-85 include:

  • 9to5 Colorado
  • The Women’s Foundation of Colorado
  • Center for Legal Inclusiveness
  • Colorado Hispanic Bar Association
  • Colorado Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association

For more information on SB-85, contact Loren Furman, Chamber Senior Vice President for State and Federal Relations, at 303.866.9642.


Stay in the Know! Attend a Council Meeting and Hear from our Guest Speakers

Policy Councils are at the core of the Colorado Chamber’s work and provide an opportunity for dialogue between our members, key legislators and state agency leaders. Influential guest speakers for upcoming councils are listed below.

Governmental Affairs:

February 12th: Lisa Labriola, Chief of Staff, CO Senate Democrats & Tim Greismer, Chief of Staff, CO Senate Republicans

HealthCare:

February 14th: Dianna Primavera, Lieutenant Governor and Executive Director of the Office of Saving People Money on Healthcare

Labor & Employment:

February 20th: Joe Barela, Executive Director for Colorado Department of Labor & Employment and Chair of the Aurora Chamber Board of Directors

Energy & Environment:

February 27th: Will Toor, Executive Director, Colorado Energy Office

March 27th:  Representative Chris Hansen, Joint Budget Committee and Chair of Appropriations Committee.

Tax Council:

March 8th:  Cary Kennedy, Senior Advisor for Fiscal Policy, Office of the Governor

Please visit our online calendar for a complete list of council meetings.


Kick-off 2019 with the Chamber's Federal Policy Council

Where:  Colorado Chamber Offices, 1600 Broadway, Ste. 1000, 80202

When:  Tuesday, 2/19, Noon to 1:15pm

***Special Guest Speaker: Congressman Jason Crow (D-CO-06)***

RSVP HERE!

Special thanks to PhRMA for sponsoring our February Federal Policy Council & lunch!

Federal Policy Council dates for 2019 are here!

February 19 – Get to know Congressman Crow!

April 9

June 4

August – Congressional Reception Date TBD

October 8

Want to see your logo next to these Fed Council alerts?  We do too! 

Contact Laura Moss, LMoss@COchamber.com, (303) 866-9652 or Leah Curtsinger, Lcurtsinger@COchamber.com or (303) 866-9641 for more information about sponsorships and/or policy issues of interest for future council meetings.