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LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW 6/19/08

Colorado governor signs bill expanding sexual orientation protections

Over fierce post-session attacks from Christian groups like Focus on the Family, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D) signed a bill (S.B. 200) into law on May 29, 2008, adding sexual orientation protections, including gender identity, to non-discrimination statutes for 23 areas, including the denial of membership in a union or labor organization, housing practices, public accommodations, eligibility for jury service, managed health care plans, publicly financed projects, school districts, merit systems and the availability of family planning services, among other areas. Sponsored by Senator Jennifer Veiga (D) and Representative Joel Judd (D), the law will also add sex, marital status, disability, age, national origin, ancestry and religion protections to those non-discrimination statutes as needed. The law takes effect immediately. Unlike other bills, which are signed with public ceremonies and separate news releases, media reports indicate that Ritter simply signed the bill in his office.

The law expands upon another law (S.B. 07-25) enacted during the 2007 legislative session amending Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act to prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation (including gender identity) or religion. That law, which provided workplace protections to homosexual, bisexual and transgendered employees, went into effect on August 8, 2007. Besides Colorado, 12 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting both sexual orientation and gender identity. California, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington in the public and private sector. Another seven states, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin, have laws prohibiting discrimination just based on sexual orientation. Prior to the amendment, the Anti-Discrimination Act only protected employees based on race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, and ancestry.

The 2008 legislation, which does not focus on employment discrimination per se, instead concentrates on providing housing and public accommodations protections to individuals based on their sexual orientation. However, in connection with publicly financed projects, sexual orientation protections are provided to a class of persons defined as "Colorado labor." Whenever any public works are financed in whole or in part by funds of the state, "Colorado labor" must perform the work. "Colorado labor" refers to a requirement that residents must comprise not less than 80 percent of the employees on public works projects. Also, school districts cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation related to employment, promotion, transfer and dismissal and county merit systems must assure fair treatment of applicants and employees in aspects of personnel administration. The law also creates a seven member Civil Rights Commission composed of at least four individuals who have been, or might be discriminated against because of sexual orientation. Violations of anti-discrimination laws are misdemeanors subject to fines up to $5,000, two years imprisonment in a county jail, or both.

The law can be found at the following website.

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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