Anti-discrimination and the laws that protect you

man in wheelchair working with woman, medical indifferenceRegardless of whether you are a member of a protected class or not, it’s important to understand the anti-discrimination laws and how they have changed over the years. In Colorado, the main one is the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). It originally passed in 2013 and additions to it went into effect on January 1, 2015. The main difference between CADA and the federal anti-discrimination laws is that CADA applies to all Colorado employers no matter how few employees they have. Most of the federal laws only apply to employers with at least 15 employees.


What does the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act cover?

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin or ancestry. It also guarantees equal access to public accommodations and housing. Public accommodations include most businesses that offer products or services to the public, such as restaurants, retail stores, health clubs, and even hospitals and clinics. In Colorado, it’s illegal for one of these places to deny someone the available goods and services because they are a member of any of the protected classes listed above. The part of the law that covers housing protects those same people from discriminatory financing, refusal to rent, unequal terms and conditions, failure to provide reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and retaliation for exercising these rights.

Some of the changes that were added in January 2015 include:

  • Employees can now file discrimination lawsuits under state law vs. federal law.
  • In addition to back pay and equitable relief (i.e. reinstatement), employees can now seek to recover punitive and compensatory damages such as emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience and other losses not directly relating to or consisting of money (a.k.a. non-pecuniary losses).
  • The courts now have the discretionary power to award aggrieved employees attorneys’ fees, as well as various fees and cost associated with the actions.
  • Employers may be awarded attorneys fees and costs, but only if the court deems the case to be groundless, vexatious, or frivolous.
  • Either the employer or the employee can now demand a jury trial.
  • To be more in line with federal age discrimination law, there is no longer a maximum age for employees to make a discrimination claim.


What is the process for filing anti-discrimination complaints?

With all of these new laws, it is important to remember that there is a statute of limitations (time limit) from the date of the last alleged discriminatory and/or retaliatory act for when you must file a complaint:

  • Employment filing deadline: six (6) months from the act of alleged discrimination (possibly up to 300 days for federal matters)
  • Housing filing deadline: one (1) year from the act of alleged discrimination
  • Public Accommodations filing deadline: sixty (60) days from the act of alleged discrimination

Therefore, if you feel that you have been discriminated against, it is important to act fast. If you choose to file a complaint yourself, you can read the steps for the Complaint Process online with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, under the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, or DORA. There are different filings that need to happen before these deadlines, so it is important to start as early as possible. And whether you file yourself or get legal representation, know that the Division has 270 days to complete their administrative process (with 90-day extension requests available to both parties) so it can take a while to resolve.


Who can help me with anti-discrimination lawsuits?

The other option is to consult an attorney who is experienced with not only the deadlines and filing procedures, but also all of the state and federal anti-discrimination laws that may apply to your case. If you believe you are the victim of discrimination, it’s important to act quickly and to gather as much evidence as you can, and then contact a local civil rights attorney who can advise you on your case. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully handled many anti-discrimination cases over the past 10 years and we are 100% dedicated to civil rights issues. We offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case. Please call us at 720-515-6165.

Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.

Related blog posts on this topic:

How to spot workplace discrimination

Speaking up about workplace discrimination

Sexist language and subtle discrimination

Is there such a thing as pregnancy discrimination in the workplace?

I filed an age discrimination lawsuit: What questions will I be asked?

What proof do I need for age discrimination lawsuits in Colorado?

What is the burden of proof in a religious discrimination lawsuit

Discrimination in Denver

Is it discrimination? A few questions you need to ask

How to spot workplace discrimination

Workplace discrimination can take a variety of forms that may not always be easy to spot. But before we get into the details of how to spot workplace discrimination, it’s important to understand exactly what discrimination is. Simply put, discrimination means treating someone differently based on — or because of — their protected class characteristics (i.e. things like sex, race, age, religion, disability, etc.). We’ve all likely experienced some form of discrimination at some point or another in our lives, whether it be in the form of racism, sexism, ageism, or the many other ways that people are unfairly judged based on an aspect of themselves they cannot change. Disparate treatment based on a protected class characteristic is against the law. And while things have improved over the years, discrimination unfortunately still sometimes happens … especially in the workplace.

What laws protect you against workplace discrimination?

There are many federal laws that protect you from workplace discrimination, including but not limited to:

The basic idea of these combined laws is that employers must treat all of their employees equally regardless of sex/gender, age, race, religion, national origin, pregnancy status, disabilities, etc. They are not allowed to make employment decisions such as hiring, firing, promotions, assignments, or discipline based on these factors. The laws also prohibit retaliation and harassment, including sexual harassment. Federal laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees (the ADEA requires a minimum of 20), but many states have additional laws that extend these protections to employers with fewer employees. In Colorado, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) protects employees who work for employers with less than 15 employees and, often, include even more expansive protections than does federal law.

equal pay shown on scale with moneyWhat does workplace discrimination look like?

Discrimination can take many forms but there are certain behaviors and situations that you should keep an eye out for as red flags that might be indicative of discrimination.

Unequal pay: If two employees (or groups of employees) have the same skills, abilities, qualifications and performance and are doing the same (or comparable) job, but one is being paid more simply because of other differences, that may be a sign of discrimination. Whether those differences are based on gender, race, age, or any other protected class status — it’s not right and may be actionable. This is one of the most obvious and recognizable signs of discrimination, so if you suspect something may be amiss between you and other employee’s pay, consider asking what others in similar roles are being paid as compared to you.

Pay secrecy policies: To protect employees who inquire into the compensation they and their coworkers are making, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 prohibits private-sector employers from enacting pay secrecy policies that try to stop employees from discussing their pay with each other. In 2014, President Obama signed an executive order that prohibits such discussion for federal contractors as well. If such policies exist, they are likely to be unlawful and/or unenforceable.

Lack of Diversity: Are all the employees at your company the same race? Is everyone under 40 even though there are plenty of jobs that could be performed by older people? Are all the female employees childless, which could indicate pregnancy or familial preference? If so, these types of patterns may be indicative of discrimination. The more obvious the differences are, the easier this one is to spot. You can also look for signs of this kind of discrimination by looking at people in positions of leadership — are they all men or a certain race? If so, this could be a sign that the employer discriminates in its hiring practices or may consciously or subconsciously prevent members of protects classes from advancement. This could also be a sign that facially neutral policies are being applied (or being applied in a manner) that may have a disproportionate impact on people of certain protected classes.

Gender roles: In the not-so-distant past, it was totally acceptable for employers to hire specific genders for certain jobs, such as men being managers and women being secretaries. Unfortunately, this kind of discrimination still happens today and affects people of all protected classes. Much of this discrimination is based on stereotypes, such as hiring only men as car salesmen because “men know more about cars.” Or hiring women as receptionists because “women are more pleasant than men.” It could involve employers not hiring people of a certain race for a front desk position because they don’t want people with different accents greeting customers. Sometimes it’s subtle, like an employer only asking female employees to fill in for a sick receptionist or younger employees to do jobs involving technology.

Inappropriate questions, jokes or communication: Everyone likes to joke around and be lighthearted at work occasionally, but if those jokes are levied at the expense of people of protected classes — such as sexist or racist jokes — it can be classified as discrimination. Also, it can be helpful to look at how supervisors communicate with the employees under them — are they condescending to certain genders or ages? Do they over-explain things to people of different races? Do they make unfounded assumptions about the trustworthiness of people of certain races? Do they express distrust for people of certain religions? These are the subtle forms of discrimination that may point to bigger problems.

Suspicious interview questions and hiring practices: During an interview, if you are asked questions about your health, age, plans on having a family, or other personal situations that have nothing to do with the job you are applying for, that may be a red flag. Some employers still look for ways not to hire women who may be planning on having children, or may already have several children, because those women sometimes need time off to care for their children. Employers may find tricky ways of asking about your age because your health insurance could cost them more or they might assume you are going to retire soon. If a potential employer asks inappropriate questions, it may be a sign to pass on that job or report the employer.

Unequal promotions and discipline: Are less-qualified male employees being promoted faster than more-qualified women? Are employees of a certain race given better jobs or opportunities for growth? Are older employees given less hours or given tasks that are below their skills? Likewise, are things equal with regards to discipline? Does your boss scold or punish the female employees for being late but let the men get away with it? If an employer only enforces certain policies with specific employees of a protected class, that can be an example of workplace discrimination.

Retaliation: If you feel that discriminated against, or that discrimination is impacting other employees, you have the right to complain and/or to seek changes for an equal opportunity workplace. If you decide to exercise your rights, the law prohibits your employer from retaliating against you, including for any of the following:

  • Complaining to your employer or supervisor
  • Filing a discrimination charge or lawsuit
  • Resisting sexual harassment or advances
  • Opposing discrimination or an unlawful employment practice
  • Being a witness in someone else’s discrimination complaint or lawsuit
  • Requesting an accommodation for a disability
  • Assisting with a discrimination investigation
  • Requesting information on your employer’s discrimination policies

All of these are considered protected activity and retaliation for them is against the law. Retaliation can take many forms such as termination, increased scrutiny, negative performance reviews, discipline, a change in job duties or reduction in hours, or almost any other form of threat or harassment that has a material effect on your job or ability to perform your job.

What should you do?

If you believe you are the victim of workplace discrimination or retaliation, it’s important to act quickly because there are time limits for when you can file a charge or a lawsuit. It’s equally important to gather as much evidence as you can and then contact a local civil rights attorney because they can advise you on all the laws in your city and state. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully handled many workplace discrimination cases over the past 10 years and we are 100% dedicated to civil rights issues. We offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case. Please call us at 720-515-6165.

Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.


Related blog posts on this topic:

Speaking up about workplace discrimination

Equal pay for equal work is a law in Colorado

You have a right to your personnel files

Sexist language and subtle discrimination

Is there such a thing as pregnancy discrimination in the workplace?

I filed an age discrimination lawsuit: What questions will I be asked?

My company found out I’m a whistleblower and are now harassing me

What proof do I need for age discrimination lawsuits in Colorado?


Speaking up about workplace discrimination

woman stressed at work, workplace discriminationWhile gathering evidence and documentation is necessary for your workplace discrimination case, the first step is often the hardest for most people to take: say something. If you feel you are being discriminated against for any reason, the most important thing is for you to make it officially known to your employer that you feel this way, in writing. Every company has their specific policies, whether it be filing an official report or speaking with a specific person, so if you aren’t sure consult your employee handbook or ask someone in the human resources department to find out what steps you need to take. If you don’t have an HR department and it isn’t specified in your employee handbook, just start with your immediate supervisor. Send an email, a letter, or a fax, however you choose to do it, make sure you complain in writing and make sure that you make it clear you believe you have been discriminated against due to your protected class status.


Workplace discrimination: Make it official

Now, a lot of people are probably wondering why you should let your employer know you feel this way, after all, its probably not the most comfortable conversation you can imagine. But there are many reasons why it is to your advantage to do this. The first reason is that sometimes talking about an issue can help resolve it. It’s possible your employer didn’t realize they (or another employee) were doing something that either made you feel uncomfortable or made you feel you were being treated differently than other employees. If you talk to them about it, they might be willing to address the issue and make things better without getting lawyers involved. This is certainly the easiest and quickest outcome you can hope for and could lead to you enjoying your job again and moving forward.

However, we all know this isn’t always the case so the second reason it’s important to speak up or file an official report is to create a paper trail. Once you file your complaint, any adverse action your employer takes against you after that may count as retaliation, which is illegal. According to the EEOC, Participating in a complaint process is protected from retaliation under all circumstances. Whether it be termination, a demotion, discipline, or even a significant schedule change, it is illegal for them to treat you differently simply because you have raised a complaint. And if these actions do occur, they are great evidence for a discrimination and/or relation lawsuit.

One last thing to consider is that raising a complaint can also help you keep your job longer. Most HR representatives know the laws regarding retaliation, so it is less likely your boss’s boss will approve termination or other adverse employment actions against you once you raise a good-faith complaint. While termination may still be inevitable, this could help bring attention to illegal conduct and provide you and others interested in ensuring an equal opportunity workplace necessary time to gather more evidence.


How do I prove retaliation in workplace discrimination cases?

Once you file your complaint — a protected activity — your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you because of it. However, if you do something wrong, they are still allowed to address that behavior how they normally would (i.e. cutting your pay for being late). “In a case alleging that an employer took a materially adverse action because of protected activity, legal proof of retaliation requires evidence that:

  • An individual engaged in prior protected activity
  • The employer took a materially adverse action
  • Retaliation caused the employer’s action.” (EEOC website)

The last one isn’t easy to prove, but it’s one more reason why you want to make your complaint official, to show a timeline of events. If you are now being punished for something that you and other employees have done in the past without consequence, that can help prove retaliation by helping to show that you are being treated differently than similarly situated others have been treated in the past.


Gathering other evidence for your case

Never forget that the best time to gather evidence on workplace discrimination is while you are still employed. If you happen to get terminated, you still have the right to obtain your employee files (See our previous blog post: You have a right to your personnel files) but that won’t include everything, just official documents like performance reviews, official discipline, or other official actions. So, in addition to filing an official complaint, remember to save anything that could be used to show how you are being treated or patterns in your employer’s behavior. One easy thing to do (so long as you do not violate any company policy) is to blind copy (BCC) your personal email address. This is a great way to have backup copies of any important emails that tend to show discriminations because typically you won’t be able to access your work email account after you are terminated. You can also just forward emails as well. And don’t just keep copies of emails that might show discrimination but also ones where your employer praises you, or ones where other employees thank you for doing something. These can help prove you were a good employee if they suddenly start giving you bad performance reviews or otherwise try to falsely claim that you were a bad employee before you started complaining about discriminations. And if your supervisor gives you cards or notes with praise, save those too. You never know what could end up helping prove your case.


Who can help you fight workplace discrimination?

If you ever feel you are being discriminated against at your job, it’s important to speak to someone as soon as possible. Very often you must file an official complaint before your employer can be made liable and there are important deadlines to filing claims with state or federal agencies. Finding the right civil rights attorney is key. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully handled many workplace discrimination cases over the past 10 years and we are 100% dedicated to civil rights issues. We offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case. Please call us at 720-515-6165.

Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.


Additional resources on workplace discrimination:

Questions and Answers: Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues

Discrimination, Harassment, & Mistreatment,

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Civil Rights Litigation Group

1543 Champa St., Suite #400

Denver, CO 80202

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