The law’s complicated. It takes years to understand the ins and outs of just one field. Still, just because it’s hard to understand, doesn’t mean you should be fooled by all of the legal legends running around the internet. So, here’s my effort to debunk the top 3 legal myths you hear online.
Myth 1 – “If you complain about discrimination or harassment at work, they can just find some excuse to fire you”
Retaliating against you for complaining about discrimination, harassment, or your employer’s illegal activities is against the law.
Now sometimes employers break the law, and here’s how these cases go when they do: a plaintiff claims they were fired for complaining about sexual harassment, the employer comes up with some excuse for firing the plaintiff, then the plaintiff gets to show that their reason is a “pretext” (B.S. in other words). Usually the plaintiff proves this by showing that the employer didn’t fire other employees when they did the same thing the employer “fired” the plaintiff for doing.
There are thousands of cases a year where an employee complains about harassment, the employer finds some excuse to fire them, and the employee sues and wins. Don’t believe the hype, employers can’t just make up some excuse to fire you and get away with it.
Now, don’t expect everyone to be a big happy family after you complain. Things will probably get frosty between you and your superiors. But, if they take any action against you for complaining, they are breaking the law and you will probably win a lawsuit against them. If you do get fired, and you’re worried you can’t prove it was illegal, see Myth 3 below.
Myth 2 – “If my landlord keeps my security deposit, there’s nothing I can do”
Here’s what Colorado law has to say about that:
A landlord shall, within one month after the termination of a lease . . . return to the tenant the full security deposit . . . No security deposit shall be retained to cover normal wear and tear. In the event that actual cause exists for retaining any portion of the security deposit, the landlord shall provide the tenant with a written statement listing the exact reasons for the retention of any portion of the security deposit
(3) (a) The willful retention of a security deposit in violation of this section shall render a landlord liable for treble the amount of that portion of the security deposit wrongfully withheld from the tenant, together with reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs; except that the tenant has the obligation to give notice to the landlord of his intention to file legal proceedings a minimum of seven days prior to filing said action.
In English: your landlord has to return your deposit to you or justify every deduction within a month of you moving, and he or she can’t keep your money for things that have changed through normal wear and tear.
If your landlord fails to return your deposit, you can sue him to recover it. If the court finds that he or she has “willfully withheld” the deposit, you can recover 3 times the amount your landlord kept plus your attorney’s fees and costs of the lawsuit. That’s a pretty stiff penalty. Chances are, if you ask for your deposit back, you’ll get it because your landlord’s not going to risk having to pay you 3 times what he or she wants to keep.
Myth 3 – “I’ve got no evidence” or “that’s just hearsay”
These statements are 2 sides of the same coin, and I’ve heard them over and over again. What people are saying is that all they have is their word (or all the police have is the officer’s word), and that’s not enough to prove anything in court.
It’s not true. Witness testimony is the key to most court cases. People get on the stand, take an oath, and tell the jury what happened. Then the jury has to decide if they believe it (or who to believe if people disagree). It’d be great if every accident, workplace complaint, or criminal act was caught on video, but that’s not realistic. Most cases hinge on on the words coming from the witness stand.
So, if you want to report your boss for sexual harassment, but you’re worried you don’t have “proof,” don’t fret. Juries will listen to what you have to say, and judge it against the rest of the evidence in the case. If you tell the truth and your story makes sense, you’re pretty likely to succeed.
So there you go. Next time you hear people talking about these myths, you’ll know they don’t may not know as much as they think they do.