Are you trying to find ways to get employees to listen during your annual harassment and discrimination training session? Do your employees’ eyes glaze over when they hear yet another pronouncement highlighting the company’s commitment to equal opportunity?
Here’s something that should get their attention: Under Colorado law, anyone who, intending to do harm, intentionally interferes with a contract—that person may be held personally liable for that interference if it occurs outside the scope of his or her job.
Recent case: Robert Preston was one of several black employees in his division at Atmel Corporation until the company began firing them one by one. Then, Preston claimed, a supervisor told him that several other supervisors were planning a paper case to get rid of him, too.
Preston decided to take pre-emptive action by quitting his at-will job. Then he sued the supervisors under Colorado state law for tortuous interference with business relationships such as contracts. The court said he had a case.
Colorado law allows individuals to sue those who intentionally interfere with contracts, including at-will employment contracts. By allegedly trying to find ways to get Preston fired, the supervisors were, in essence, interfering with his right to work for the company.
The court said company representatives or agents, such as the supervisors in this case, could be liable if they were motivated solely by a desire to harm one of the parties to the contract. In this case, that party was Preston. A jury now will get the case. (Preston v. Atmel, et al., No. 07-CV-01644, DC CO, 2008)
Final note: As long as you’re training employees, remind them that they may be personally liable for other violations, too. For example, intentionally interfering with may mean personal liability, as may violating the complex Fair Labor Standards Act. Reminding employees of their liability may be all it takes to make them think twice before targeting someone due to his or her protected characteristics.
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