Disability Discrimination in Colorado


Disability discrimination is treating an employee or job applicant differently because of a disability, perceived disability, or an association with a disabled person. Whether a person is visibly disabled or not, treating them differently or failing to make certain workplace accommodations is illegal. While disability discrimination claims have steadily declined over the last decade, people across the U.S. still filed more than 24,000 disability claims with the EEOC in 2019. So, it’s good to understand your employment rights under federal and state legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or those applying for employment because of a disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (2008). It prevents employers from discriminating against someone with a disability in all aspects of employment, including:

  • Applications, interviews, and hiring;
  • Compensation and benefit determinations;
  • Employee discipline or suspensions;
  • Harassment or hostile work environment;
  • Promotions, reviews, and pay raises;
  • Discharge or terminations; and
  • Any other terms of employment.

The ADA also protects employees from employer retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation due to a disability.

What is a Disability?

The ADA and the Rehab Act define “disability” as:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a life activity. Life activities include“hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning or working;”
  • Having a record of such an impairment; or
  • Being regarded as having an impairment.

Over the years, the courts have broadened the conditions that are disabilities under the law. Now, disabilities can include:

  • Deafness;
  • Blindness;
  • Diabetes;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Intellectual Disabilities;
  • Mobility impairments;
  • Missing or partially missing limbs;
  • Cancer;
  • Asthma;
  • Heart conditions;
  • Lifting and back problems; and
  • Mental health issues.

To be a “qualified individual with a disability,” a worker must be able to perform the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodations. The essential functions of a job are the necessary duties and activities of the job position.

Who is Covered by the ADA?

The ADA applies to all employers with at least 15 employees, including federal, state, and local government employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, and private employers. The ADA only protects qualified workers with disabilities. A qualified worker is an individual who can perform the work with reasonable accommodations. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applies the ADA’s nondiscrimination standards to federal agencies, programs receiving federal financial aid, federal employment, and federal contractors’ employment practices.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

Federal and state laws also require that employers make reasonable accommodations that will allow a disabled employee to perform their job. Reasonable accommodations can include:

  • Using technology or modified equipment;
  • Accessible offices, bathrooms, and meeting rooms;
  • Modified work schedules;
  • Job reassignments or transfers to a vacant position;
  • Modifying training and testing materials; and
  • Periodic absences.

When requesting a reasonable accommodation, you should put your request in writing. Suppose your employer denies or ignores your request for a reasonable accommodation. In that case, you should consult an attorney to discuss whether to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Colorado Office of Civil Rights.

Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act

Colorado law also protects those with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) prevents discrimination because of an individual’s disability. Colorado’s law is broader than the federal ADA, applying to all employers regardless of the number of employees.

Filing a Disability Discrimination Claim

In many cases, you can file a disability discrimination claim with either the EEOC or the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Both agencies work collaboratively but have different deadlines and filing requirements. If you work for an employer with fewer than 15 employees, you may need to file with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Moreover, you typically must exhaust your remedies with these agencies before you can file a lawsuit in court. It’s best to consult an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you don’t miss any statutory deadlines, file with the correct agency, and submit the proper documentation for your claim.

Remedies Available for a Disability Discrimination Claim

Under both the ADA and the CADA, compensation for discrimination may include:

  • Back pay, including interest;
  • Reinstatement or front pay;
  • Attorney’s fees and costs; and
  • Liquidated damages for discriminatory acts based on “malice or reckless indifference” to your rights.

If you’ve faced disability discrimination at work, you should consult an experienced Colorado employment attorney to discuss your options and ensure you meet the statutory deadlines to file a complaint.


If You Have An Employment Issue, We Can Help

Navigating the ins and outs of an employment case can be extremely difficult to do without legal counsel. Livelihood law is here to help. Contact us to discuss your matter with one of our experienced employment attorneys.