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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Sturgeon introduces bills to strengthen legal protections against workplace misconduct

June 2, 2023

DOVER – Sen. Laura Sturgeon filed three bills Thursday to enhance the ability of workers to pursue legal action when their employment rights are violated.

Her legislation will increase the existing caps on compensatory and punitive damages that can be awarded by the courts, clarify when workplace misconduct claims meet the statute of limitations, and protect workers who rely on electronically stored business records to help prove they have been the victims of discrimination, harassment and other workplace misconduct.

“Every Delawarean has a fundamental right to work in an environment that’s free of discrimination and harassment,” said Sen. Sturgeon, D-Greenville. “But for many workers, holding an employer accountable for violating your rights can be a daunting proposition when you depend on your job to keep food on the table. The bills I am introducing today will help the victims of discrimination, harassment and misconduct in the workplace to stand up for themselves and find justice in our courts.”

Specifically, Senate Bill 145 would increase the monetary damages that Delaware Superior Court can award when workers successfully prove they were the victims of workplace discrimination. Delaware’s existing caps on compensatory and punitive damages are set by a 1991 federal law, which has failed to keep pace with inflation over the last three decades.

SB 145 would more than double the caps on total damages that could be awarded by the courts, depending on the size of the company, while also expressly clarifying that the courts may order back pay and front pay as part of the equitable relief available under the Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act.

Senate Bill 146 would help workers meet the 300-day statute of limitations for employment discrimination claims by clarifying that the filing date of a verified charge is the date when it is sent to the Delaware Department of Labor instead of the date that it is received.

Senate Bill 147 would shield workers who use electronically stored business records as evidence of misconduct from being criminally charged or countersued by their employer for violating Delaware computer crimes.

Under current state law, workers who use email, electronic records and other computer systems to investigate and document violations of state and federal employment law can be charged with a misdemeanor and threatened with a civil suit that far exceeds any compensation they would be awarded if their claim is successful.

SB 147 would create a narrow exception in Delaware’s computer crimes law to protect workers from criminal and civil liability when they access or disclose electronic records in pursuit of a workplace misconduct claim. 

“One of government’s critical roles is providing protections for working individuals, making sure they are not facing discrimination, and if they are, that they’re able to pursue action to hold their employer accountable,” said Rep. Ed Osienski, the lead House sponsor on all three bills. “It can be daunting for a worker who has faced discrimination to stand up against a larger business, and these bills will help tip the scales a bit to help them seek justice. I’m proud to sponsor these bills with Sen. Sturgeon and continue our efforts to protect our dedicated workforce in Delaware.”

The introduction of SB 145, SB 146 and SB 147 follows Gov. John Carney signing into law Senate Bill 27, legislation sponsored by Sen. Sturgeon and Rep. Osienski to increase the statute of limitations for workers to file a claim for unpaid wages.

SB 145 and SB 146 have been assigned to the Senate Labor Committee. SB 147 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.