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Both federal and Colorado law prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of certain protected characteristics.

Workplace discrimination is entirely unacceptable, and you should pursue all legal claims if you think an employer has discriminated against you.

Protected Characteristics

Federal law protects the following characteristics:

what is workplace discrimination

  • Sex, including sexual harassment
  • Pregnancy
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Age (over 40)
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Colorado protects additional characteristics, such as:

  • Sexual orientation (including transgender status)
  • Creed
  • Ancestry
  • Marriage to a coworker

Racial Discrimination

With respect to race, all races are protected from discrimination, not simply racial minorities. This means an employer cannot discriminate against white people, just as it cannot discriminate against any other race. Likewise, men are also protected from sex discrimination, not only women.

Negative Employment Actions

Anti-discrimination law prohibits discrimination in all areas of employment, including:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Layoffs
  • Referrals
  • Pay and benefits
  • Discipline
  • Training
  • Accommodation
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Dress codes
  • Job assignments
  • Promotion
  • Demotion

Employers cannot use apparently non-discriminatory policies or rules that have a disparate impact. For example, an employer cannot require that its middle managers lift 100 pounds to get promoted since this rule will likely discriminate against women. Employer practices or rules that create any type of disparate impact must be justified by business necessity.

No Retaliation

Both federal and state law prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee for reporting discrimination. Any retaliation is itself discriminatory and can result in a lawsuit or government investigation.

For example, Kim might observe harassment of Muslim employees in her workplace, so she reports it. Even though Kim is not herself Muslim, she is protected in case her employer tries to retaliate by taking a negative employment action against her.

Filing a Charge

If you suspect you have fallen victim to discrimination, then you should alert either the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Colorado Civil Rights Division. You should avoid delay. Generally, you get only six months from the date of the discriminatory action to file your complaint, and any delay could cost you.
Filing a discrimination charge is required before you can bring a lawsuit in court. The charge allows the government to investigate and possibly encourage your employer to negotiate a settlement with you. The government can also pursue sanctions against your employer.


Clients who have suffered workplace discrimination have received different remedies, depending on the situation, such as:

  • Reinstatement
  • Back pay
  • Front pay
  • Liquidated damages
  • Compensatory damages, for emotional distress and other non-economic loss
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorneys’ fees

Each case is different, and you should meet with a lawyer to analyze what types of compensation you can receive if you prevail in your discrimination case.

Contact Olson Law Today

Colorado has made a strong attempt to stamp out workplace discrimination, but it is up to individual employees to pursue claims and alert the government to the conduct. At the Olson Law Firm, we help employees vindicate their rights under federal and state antidiscrimination laws.

To find out more, please contact us for a free initial consultation.


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