Many workers may not realize that they are protected from unlawful terminations by their employers. This usually happens following a change in management or during sudden layoffs or firings that occur without warning or explanation. The law prohibits employers from using motives such as discrimination based on race or gender, or retaliation for exercising a protected right when making these decisions.
Multiple employees of an energy company in the Denver area have recently filed lawsuits against their former employer over discrimination and other related issues.
Energy company fires multiple employees with similar backgrounds
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) located in Golden Colorado laid off several employees at the same time despite no history of performance issues or other work-related problems. All the employees believe that the terminations were related to either their age or disabilities due to recent health problems.
One plaintiff is a 59 year-old woman who had just battled breast cancer before being laid off. Another party to the lawsuit is a 72 year-old man with over 20 years of experience with the company. He also had recent issues with cancer and was close to retirement. A third plaintiff was a 56 year-old woman who was in the middle of treatment for skin cancer when she was fired. All of the employees claim that they had never received a negative performance review during their entire tenure with NREL.
Some of the categories of claimed damages the employees had in common, aside from the loss of their full time income, include financial investments like a 401k or pension plan, as well as health insurance. The plaintiffs filed formal charges to their local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission related to age and disability discrimination and retained an employment attorney to determine if their claims can go forward. They were still waiting for this process to conclude at the time of the news report, as the initial investigation can sometimes take years. The parent company that owns NREL denies the allegations and issued a statement that they were complying with the EEOC investigation and that all relevant labor regulations were followed when the employees were terminated.
How do employment law protections work?
Employment law is a broad area that covers rules and regulations governing issues such as overtime wages or unpaid wages, discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and a number of other requirements that businesses must comply with under both state and federal law. These laws provide civil remedies such as monetary damages for lost wages and missed benefits, in an effort to deter employers from engaging in illegal conduct that hurt their workers.
When employers terminate or discipline an employee, it must be done for a neutral reason and cannot involve discriminating against a protected category such as race, gender, disability status, or national origin. Employers also cannot use a neutral reason as a pretext for terminating someone based on a protected category if there is evidence that they acted willfully or in bad faith.
How can a plaintiff prove that their employer actually discriminated against them?
As the story above demonstrates, this can often be a complex inquiry. The class of plaintiffs were all close to retirement age and they were either in the process of cancer treatment or had recently completed their treatments. Many employers will try to defend such allegations with documented proof of issues from employees such as lateness, poor performance, or violations of company policy. An attorney for a plaintiff in an employment discrimination lawsuit needs to work hard to show some kind of discriminatory conduct, as a legitimate neutral reason for terminating an employee can usually end the inquiry and prevent the lawsuit from proceeding any further.
The elements of a wrongful termination do not have to be proven through layoffs or terminations alone. The claim can include other related adverse actions such as demotions, reductions in wages, changes in job duties that will discourage the employee from keeping their position, or any kind of harassment or hostility that creates a problematic work environment. If there is an employment contract on file that outlines the responsibilities of both the employer and employee, a violation of the terms contained in the document can also create the legal grounds for a lawsuit.
There are federal civil rights laws and state laws in Colorado that overlap and cover most of the same regulations. Colorado state law does not have a requirement that a business employs at least fifteen people to be subject to its regulations, thus it is more often cited in cases against small or local businesses. In comparison, federal law does have such requirements and is more applicable to larger or nationwide businesses. The most important evidence of a Colorado wrongful termination claim is to conclusively prove that the employee was terminated in retaliation for exercising some kind of protected right or privilege.
Talk to an employment lawyer in Colorado
For help dealing with any kind of employment law issues in the Denver metro area, contact Anderson Barkley LLC. They have decades of experience helping workers who have suffered at the hands of their employers.