Hostile Work Environment – Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination, where an employer treats a worker or job applicant unfavorably if he or she has a disability, is an illegal employment practice in Colorado. In order to bring a claim of disability discrimination, a worker must satisfy three elements:

  1. The worker must have a disability that qualifies for protection under federal law or Colorado state law;
  2. The employer must be an entity covered by federal law or Colorado state law; and
  3. The worker must have been the victim of illegal discrimination.

Qualifying Disabilities

The two main laws that protect employees in from disability discrimination in Colorado are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.) and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (Co. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402). In general, these laws offer similar protections for workers with disabilities and have a similar definition of what constitutes a disability.

An individual with a disability under the ADA and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act is someone who:

  1. Has a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  2. Has a history or record of such an impairment; or
  3. Is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

Covered Employers

Together, the ADA and the Anti-Discrimination Act apply to the vast majority of employers in Colorado. The ADA applies to both public employers, such as the federal and state governments, and private employers with 15 or more employees. However, the ADA does not apply to private clubs or religious organizations, or to private employers with less than 15 employees.

Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act extends the protections of the ADA to private employers with less than 15 employees. In this sense, it is more expansive in its protections than the ADA.

Disability Discrimination – Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment claim is a type of discrimination claim based on harassment. When an employee is subject to severe or repeated harassment at work, this can create an illegal hostile work environment. Examples of harassment on the basis of disability include:

  • Jokes about a disability;
  • Posting or emailing derogatory images related to a disability;
  • Using derogatory slang to refer to a disabled person;
  • Isolating or otherwise giving unfavorable job tasks to a disabled person; and
  • Harassing a worker because they are married to or related to a person with a disability.

These actions must either be repeated or severe in order to create a hostile work environment. Although one joke about a worker’s disability may be rude and insensitive, it is likely not enough to create a hostile work environment. However, repeated jokes or a very severe incident can amount to a hostile environment.

Contact a Hostile Work Environment Attorney

Nobody should have to go to work in a hostile environment. If you are being harassed at work because you or someone you love has a disability, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney may be able to assist you in ending the workplace harassment and, if appropriate, obtaining other remedies such as back wages or emotional damages. At HKM Employment Attorneys LLP, we have experience helping workers to bring disability discrimination claims and lawsuits. We also represent employers who have been accused of disability discrimination.

If you are being harassed at work because of a disability, contact HKM Employment Attorneys LLP online or call us at 303-991-3075 for a private consultation.