Can your resignation letter defeat your Colorado employment lawsuit?

It is common in many Colorado jobs for employees to submit a resignation letter when leaving a job–but what happens when you submit a resignation letter and then sue the employer? Many workers may be surprised to find out their resignation letter may cause problems for a lawsuit against an employer for wrongful termination, employment discrimination, unpaid wages, or other labor and employment law claims. A resignation letter could also create problems for unemployment claims. Colorado workers should exercise caution when drafting a resignation letter to avoid complicating their lawsuits or unemployment claims. If you believe you may need to leave a job and sue your employer then you should talk to a Colorado employment lawyer before giving your employer any resignation letter to avoid these problems.

What is a resignation letter and why employees submit resignation letters

Resignation letters are at a minimum written notice to an employer of your intent to end the employment relationship. Often Colorado employers request two week notice of your intent to leave your job and for you to give notice in writing. Employers often promise to leave your status as eligible for rehire if you give this resignation letter. In some professions and some positions it is expected that you will include within a resignation letter niceties about the company and your colleagues. Other workers write these types of resignation letters because they think they should.

Generally, there is no duty for employees to notify an employer in Denver or other parts of Colorado of your intent to end the employment relationship. An employment contract may require notice or an employer might give you some specific benefit for writing notice; however, Colorado labor and employment law does not require you to do so. To the extent that you may have a duty to give notice or want to receive a promised benefit of giving notice, you certainly do not have a legal obligation to make your employer feel good on the way out the door.

How a resignation letter can cause problems for your federal or Colorado employment lawsuit

Let’s say you decide one day work conditions are so terrible you have no choice but to quit and then you sue the Colorado employer for wrongful termination or employment discrimination. Your lawsuit might seek relief under federal and Colorado employment law. You decide to give your employer a resignation letter that politely gives notice of your last day and thanks the employer for the opportunity and some other pleasantries. Let’s say it says you are leaving to pursue other opportunities. This is a very common resignation letter. The resignation letter does not mention the problems in the workplace or discrimination.

That resignation letter is a real problem for your lawsuit.

Your resignation letter tells a very different story of your job and the conditions that led to you quitting your job from what your lawsuit alleges. Your wrongful termination claim necessarily has to allege that the work conditions were so unbearable that you had to leave which effectively acted to termination your employment. This is called constructive discharge. If workplace conditions were so terrible then why did you say something so different in your resignation letter? Why did you resign at a later date and continue to endure the punishing conditions? If the job was so bad then why did you not mention that at all in your resignation letter? Why did you say you were leaving to pursue other opportunities and not because the workplace harassment was too much?

Certainly, you can argue that you sent the letter to be polite or because you did not want to force yourself into an awkward confrontation on the way out the door. Maybe a jury believes that; but maybe a jury thinks if you had the ability to pause and give consideration to politeness then maybe the workplace was not quite as bad as you allege. Another issue the employer’s attorneys will undoubtedly raise is that you were blatantly dishonest in the resignation letter–or dishonest in filing your lawsuit. They cannot both be true. At best you have an uphill battle for your credibility. At worst you may lose your lawsuit at summary judgment before even reaching a jury.

Employers will use your resignation letter against you

Increasingly employers find new ways to use resignation letters against former employees. In the prior section we discussed how employers use them to defeat wrongful termination and other lawsuits. For example, employers use them to enforce noncompete agreements and provisions allowing them to clawback hiring bonuses and other compensation. You may also file for unemployment benefits on the basis that the workplace was untolerable and employers will use your resignation letter as proof you said something different from the allegations in your unemployment claim. Employers in Colorado will use any evidence that their disposal to their benefit. Giving an employer a resignation letter just adds to the available evidence they can use against you.

What should I put in a resignation letter?

If you are leaving a job on unpleasant terms then you should talk to a Denver employment lawyer if possible before leaving to get specific advice on how to quit your job. Generally if you are leaving a job for unpleasant reasons then you should give written notice of your departure but leave out any commentary about your job or the employer. Simply write, “Please accept this as notice my last day of work will be X.” You may add your current contact information so the employer can send you a final W-2 or necessary documents. Generally your employer is not owed anything more. You do not need to thank them for the opportunity to work or hope to work with anybody in the future.

When facing poor work conditions or problems on the job you should talk to Colorado employment lawyers immediately about your job. Labor and employment law are complex ares of law and legal answers can turn on minute details and complicated legal analysis. Experienced employment lawyers can discuss your situation and give you an answer specific to your situation.

 

Does Colorado have anti discrimination laws?

Colorado employees enjoy protections from unlawful forms of discrimination under federal and Colorado anti discrimination laws. These employment discrimination laws prohibit employers from treating employees less favorably than other employees on the basis of one or more protected classes. Employees who suffer unlawful forms of discrimination have remedies under federal law and the Colorado Anti Discrimination Act. If you believe an employer discriminated against you as an employee or applicant then you should contact a Denver employment lawyer to discuss your case right away. Many employment discrimination claims require you to take specific acts within a short period of time to pursue a lawsuit or other remedy.

Federal employment discrimination laws in Colorado

Federal employment laws prohibit several forms of discrimination against employees and job applicants in Colorado. These laws often overlap with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act but provide separate rights and remedies from the state law. Federal employment laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age (over forty)
  • National origin

Other employment laws prohibit Colorado employers from discriminating against employees who exercise certain labor and employment law rights, like joining a union or taking FMLA leave, but these are often not thought of as explicitly anti-discrimination laws.

The patchwork of federal anti-discrimination laws (such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act) give Colorado employees remedies for discrimination on the basis of the protected classes above from acts such as:

  • failure to hire
  • failure to promote
  • harassment/hostile work environment
  • wrongful termination
  • pay disparity
  • demotions

Unfortunately these federal employment laws create a confusing mix of rights, remedies and procedures. For example, a Colorado employee who believes he or she suffers pay discrimination on the basis of sex could pursue claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act. Under Title VII an employee must file an administrative charge with the EEOC within 180 days and follow an administrative procedure before a lawsuit filing a lawsuit. Under the Equal Pay Act a Colorado employee can directly file suit but must do so within two years. If you believe you have a claim for employment discrimination under federal law then you should talk to Denver employment lawyers right away.

Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act statute

Colorado anti-discrimination laws

Like most states, Colorado has its own anti-discrimination laws that apply within its borders. These anti-discrimination laws apply to employment as well as other areas such as housing and public accommodations. Colorado prohibits employment discrimination under a single statute, rather than a patchwork design of federal discrimination law. Colorado enacted the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act to create a uniform structure of anti-discrimination protections for employees and applicants.

What is the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act?

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act is the state statute prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of protected classes. The protected classes under the Colorado statute today include all of the same classes protected by federal law but also include explicit protections for gender identity and sexual orientation.

Like federal law, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act establishes an administrative procedure to enforce the law’s protections and provide a forum for employees to pursue remedies. At one time employees could only pursue relief under the Colorado law through the Colorado Civil Rights Division and only limited types of relief. Today the statute allows Colorado employees to pursue claims either through the administrative process or by filing suit in Colorado state courts.

Unlike federal law, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act covers all employers in the state. Federal laws only apply to employers, depending upon the statute, with as few as two employees or as much as a minimum of twenty employees. For some types of employment discrimination in small businesses, the Colorado statute is the only available remedy for employees and applicants.

In many ways the federal and state employment discrimination laws overlap in remedies, rights and protections but it is important to be aware of the distinctions when pursuing a claim. Often employees and applicants will simultaneously pursue claims under both federal and state law which adds an additional layer of complexity to ensure compliance with both federal and state procedures. Hiring an employment lawyer in Denver can make it easier to ensure your claims are not defeated by failing to comply with statutory requirements.

When was the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act passed?

The original anti-discrimination statute in Colorado was named the Colorado Fair Employment Practices Law enacted in 1957. This law prohibited discrimination only on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin and religion. It created a rudimentary administrative agency and procedure to enforce its anti-discrimination protections in Colorado. A series of amendments added age (over forty), disability, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Colorado was a prominent battleground for LGBT discrimination protections in the 1990s. For as far back as the 1970s several cities had battled over creating municipal protections against various LGBT-related forms of discrimination.  In 1992 a state ballot initiative succeeded to prohibit cities from enacting their own anti-discrimination ordinances barring LGBT-related employment discrimination. This led to Romer v. Evans which went to the Supreme Court who ruled the amendment violated the federal Equal Protections Clause and struck it down. In 2007 the governor signed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which amended the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act to prohibit gender identity and sexual orientation in employment.

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act continues to evolve to improve protections for employees. As recently as 2015 the statute changed to allow employees to file suit in state court and to recover compensatory and punitive damages. Today the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act continues to provide employees in the state with strong employment discrimination protections.

Employment discrimination lawyers in Colorado

Hiring Denver employment lawyers for Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act claims

When pursuing an employment discrimination claim in Colorado there are many immediate issues to consider. The employee or applicant must determine if federal law also applies to the situation or just the Colorado statute. If federal law may apply then one must assess which laws apply and what procedures are required to pursue claims under them. Those procedures, plus Colorado procedures must be satisfied–often with technical, precise compliance. The Colorado person pursuing claims must also consider the precise explanation of the discriminatory practices to ensure the description matches prohibited acts under the applicable statutes. There are then later decisions about valuing the claims, when and where to file suit and how to proceed in court or an administrative hearing.

Employees and applicants in Colorado typically are not experienced or familiar with these issues. Failing to follow the right procedures can result in completely losing the right to pursue a valid discrimination claim. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to hire Denver employment lawyers as soon as you believe you may have a claim to give your lawyers an opportunity to investigate your claims and follow the process that presents the strongest case.

Colorado Sexual Harassment Laws

Colorado legislators hit with sexual harassment claims by staff and interns

This week Colorado state representative Steve Lebsock met his third sexual harassment allegation by workers for the legislature. He is among the four Colorado legislators currently facing sexual harassment allegations by legislative staff. As the #metoo movement has given employees the space to bring forward sexual harassment allegations against people in position of power, we are likely to see a continuing flow of allegations against politicians and their circles of power. As these public cases of workplace harassment continue to appear they will continue to create space for employees of private business to come forward with allegations of sex discrimination in the workplace and raise both internal and external complaints. Colorado employees who believe they suffered sexual harassment should contact Colorado employment lawyers right away.

Colorado workplace harassment laws

Sexual harassment, like other forms of workplace harassment, is unlawful under federal and Colorado employment law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination at work, including harassment. The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act similarly prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace. (Colorado Revised Statutes C.R.S. 24-34-401 et seq.)

Sexual harassment occurs when an employer creates an environment involving severe or pervasive unwelcome and offensive conduct. People often consider sexual harassment to include sexual contact or advances; however, sexual harassment can occur by making sexual or romantic comments without any touching, requests, or offers.

Colorado employees may suffer two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employer requires an employee to submit to a sexual or romantic request in exchange for work condition. That might include gaining a promotion or raise or avoiding a demotion or termination. A hostile work environment occurs when the workplace is made toxic by unwelcome and offensive sexual content, such as sexual advances, touching, comments, gestures and other sexual content in the workplace.

Sexual harassment complaints in the workplace

Employees suffering sexual harassment in the workplace may raise internal or external complaints. Which path an employee takes and when the employee complains may be extremely important to a later sexual harassment lawsuit in Colorado.

Most Colorado employers have an internal process for filing discrimination complaints to human resources or an open door policy that makes any supervisor a recipient of a complaint. Employees may feel uncomfortable with these complaints because it requires publicizing an uncomfortable experience to parts of the company that may be more aligned with the perpetrator than the victim. However, due to Supreme Court cases in the late nineties, it is sometimes necessary to raise an internal complaint.

Employees may also file external complaints with federal and Colorado anti-discrimination agencies. These complaints may go to the EEOC Colorado office in Denver or the Colorado Civil Rights Division. (Complaints will cross-file between the agencies in most cases.) The EEOC and CCRD can investigate complaints of sexual harassment in Colorado and help employees resolve workplace harassment.

Workplace harassment lawyers in Colorado

Employees suffering sexual harassment in the workplace should contact Colorado employment lawyers immediately. There are several reasons why employees should contact an employment attorney right away. These include:

Your employment lawyer can advise you how to deal with a bad situation before it gets worse

You may be in a position where a hostile work environment is emerging but has not become so severe or pervasive that it is time to move towards a lawsuit. Your Colorado employment discrimination lawyer can advise you on how to handle the situation to try to deescalate the situation and when it is the right time to take action. Scheduling a consultation with an employment law attorney early in the process gives you an opportunity for professional help at every step of the process.

Internal discrimination complaints may be necessary

Although it is often difficult to expose a coworker or manager’s harassment, a legal claim against the employer may require an internal complaint. Your employment lawyer can review whether the complaint is necessary and if so, make sure you make the request to the right part of the company.

Complaints to the EEOC and CCRD must occur within a specific timeframe

A major problem with harassment and other discrimination lawsuits arises when employees fail to file timely complaints with the EEOC or CCRD. Failure to file a timely complaint bars a later lawsuit on the same disgusting conduct.

EEOC and CCRD complaints must include the right details about the harassment

Colorado employment lawyers also find problems in harassment lawsuits when the EEOC and CCRD complaints lack the necessary details. These complaints form the beginning of the litigation process. Missing information may impair a later lawsuit even if the employee timely files a complaint.

Employment lawyers can build your case through the entire process

Hiring a Denver employment lawyer late in the process means the lawyer must deal with the situation as it is rather than working with you to build a strong position. The employer or its attorneys may have taken steps to weaken your case. Often employees enter into mediation or informal settlement discussions without knowledge of the real value of the harm suffered by the harassment. Your Colorado employment discrimination lawyer can help you understand and pursue what you deserve.