If you have been wrongfully terminated by your employer, you may have recourse under Colorado law. It is illegal in Colorado for an employer to fire a worker for a reason that is against public policy. Employees who have been terminated against public policy have the right to bring a lawsuit and seek job reinstatement, back pay, money for emotional damages, punitive damages, and/or attorney’s fees.
Violation of Public Policy
A lawsuit for termination in violation of public policy is a type of wrongful termination lawsuit that has three basic elements:
- The employee, called the plaintiff, was employed by the defendant employer;
- The defendant employer terminated, or fired, the plaintiff; and
- The termination was for a reason that was against public policy.
This third requirement, that the employee was fired in violation of public policy, is generally the hardest of the three elements to prove. In most instances, it is sufficient that the employer directed the employee to do something that was against public policy, the employee refused to do so, and the employer then fired the employee. Martin Marietta Corp. v. Lorenz, 823 P.2d 100, 108 (Colo. 1992).
Something may be against public policy because it is illegal, dangerous to others, or undermines an important right. A few common examples include:
- The employer directed the employee to perform an illegal act as part of the employee’s work-related duties;
- The employer prohibited the employee from exercising an important job-related right;
- The employer prohibited the employee from performing a public duty; or
- The employer directed the employee to act in such a way that would endanger public health, safety, or welfare.
When Can You Bring a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
One of the most complicated aspects of a wrongful termination lawsuit is the timing. In some instances, an employee that has been wrongfully fired can bring a lawsuit right away. In other cases, employees must first file a charge of discrimination with a government agency, such as the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, Civil Rights Division.
In general, an employee must bring a charge first when the employer’s act is in violation of a federal or state law that is accompanied by specific procedural requirements. If the act does not implicate a specific statute or if it does, but the statute does not require the employee to bring a formal charge, no formal charge is necessary.
For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.) protects employees who have complained about discrimination or filed a discrimination charge from retaliatory acts by the employer, such as wrongful termination. However, Title VII requires victims of retaliation to file a formal charge with the EEOC. If the EEOC dismisses the charge, they will provide the employee with a “right to sue” letter. An employee can also request a right to sue letter.
Likewise, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (Co. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402) also requires victims of retaliation for reasons related to discrimination to bring a formal charge and receive a right to sue letter before filing a lawsuit.
Contact a Wrongful Termination Lawyer
Wrongful termination lawsuits are a complicated area of law that requires an understanding of many different federal and state statutes, as well as Colorado common law. In this area of law, timing is particularly important. Failure to file a timely formal charge with the appropriate government agency may prevent an employee from bringing a wrongful termination lawsuit. At HKM Employment Attorneys LLP, we have the experience necessary to help victims who have been terminated in violation of public policy.
If you are a victim who has been fired in violation of public policy, contact HKM Employment Attorneys LLP online or call us at 303-991-3075 for a private consultation.