Montana prohibits an employer from terminating an employee without good cause, in violation of the employee handbook, and in violation of public policy. Montana also prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee or applicant on the basis of a protected class (i.e. sex, race, religion, gender, ethnicity). Where an employer violates these laws, the employee has a cause of action against the employer.
For wrongful termination cases, the employee is limited in damages to 4 years worth of wages and benefits, minus what the employee made or should have made during that time; and the suit must be filed no later than 1 year after the date of termination. Since the damages potentials are very restrictive by law, it is at times difficult to get the employer to settle for a high amount. In many cases, the employer will simply take his chances at trial if the employee demands too high an amount to settle. It can be difficult to maximize the employee’s recovery in these cases. Thus, the employee needs an attorney who knows employment law and knows how to maximize recovery in these cases.
For discrimination cases, the employee may recover typical damages. The employee must file a complaint of discrimination in the Human Right Bureau (either State of Federal) no later than 6 months after the last act of discrimination. The HRB will assign an investigator to investigate the employee’s claims.
If the investigator makes a determination of discrimination, the employer will appeal that decision and request a contested hearing with the HRB hearing officer. It is essentially a “mini-trial” except the judge and jury is the hearing officer, who will make the determination of discrimination. If the hearing officer determines discrimination occurred, he can render a judgment for damages.
The employer can appeal any errors of law he may have made during the process. If the hearing officer determines that no discrimination occurred, he will give the employee a “right to sue.” If the employee wants to pursue the discrimination further, he will have to file suit in district court.
If the investigator makes a determination that no discrimination occurred, the investigator will give the employee the “right to sue,” where the employee can file an action of discrimination in district court.
The process of discrimination claims can be laborious and extremely tedious. It is very difficult for employees to handle these matters themselves. And typically, the better the case, the more work is involved. It is very important, therefore, that an employee or employer who has a good case of discrimination or a good defense to discrimination hire an attorney who knows discrimination law and knows how to handle these cases.
If you have a discrimination claim or defense, do not hesitate to contact Tim Baldwin.