Marital Status Discrimination
We have heard people express "marital status" discrimination as "my boss discriminated against me because I'm not married" or "my boss discriminated against me because I am married." Actually, what the law in Colorado protects is the employee's right to marry or be married to a co-worker. An employer generally cannot discriminate against or terminate an employee for marrying a co-worker.
When an employee is married to or intends to be married to another employee of the same employer, the law protects both parties from being discriminated against because of their selection of a mate.
However, what an employer can legally require is notice from its employees that those employees are involved in a dating relationship. There is a good, common-sense reason for this rule: That is that the employer is entitled to protect against having employees who are dating each other also in a supervisory role as to each other. This covers not only directly supervising someone with whom he or she has a romantic interest, but also performing such functions as writing the paychecks for each other, or checking each other's work for performance issues or accuracy.
Where one employee is supervising another employee and a romantic interest develops, the employer is entitled to reassign one of the employees so they are not in a supervisor/supervisee role with each other.
Furthermore, the employer has a legitimate interest in making sure that dating or romantic interests do not disrupt the orderly processes of the workplace. So, for example, couples who are in the same workplace are not entitled to be openly sexual at work. They can't be kissing and otherwise expressing their affection for each other on the job if it disrupts the workplace or creates a hostile workplace for other employees. That would be distracting to other employees, and the employer is entitled to maintain a work environment that is, in short, about working, not other things.
Family Responsibilities Discrimination
The other type of discrimination that often is confusing is family responsibilities discrimination, often expressed as, "my employer is discriminating against me because I'm a single mom."
In fact, family responsibilities discrimination is generally based upon gender, specifically it is directed at women. And gender discrimination is against the law. In today's society, in which many middle-aged people refer to themselves as members of "the sandwich generation" (responsible for both the younger generation and the older generation, raising children and taking care of aging parents or other family members' children), this type of discrimination has become more of a concern. Simply put, employers cannot legally treat the two genders unequally. In today's workforce, mothers often are perceived as less committed to work when they have obvious family responsibilities. For example, in one study, participants were shown two resumes, one of a mother and the other identical except that the second woman was not a mother. In the study, the applicant who was a mom was 79 percent less likely to be hired and 100 percent less likely to receive a promotion.
Let's face it: Some employers think single moms have too much responsibility for their children to be hard workers. Notably, one almost never hears the same stereotype expressed about single dads. This type of discrimination, if based on gender bias or unequal treatment of the two genders, is against the law.
Enforcement in Colorado
In Colorado, the statute governing these types of discrimination is Colorado Revised Statutes § 24-34-402. The agency responsible for enforcing the law is the Colorado Civil Rights Division ("CCRD"). The CCRD is part of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, known as DORA, which is an umbrella agency for such functions as consumer protection, licensing of many professions (doctors, beauticians, nail technicians, massage therapists, etc.), gaming and a host of other activities.
Pursuant to Colorado Revised Statutes § 24-34-402, there is a short (six-month) statute of limitations related to discrimination in employment. This means that an employee who believes he or she has been discriminated in violation of Colorado law must report the discrimination within six months from the date of the alleged discriminatory act.
The CCRD has offices in Denver, Grand Junction and Pueblo. More information may be found at www.dora.state.co.us/civil-rights.
By Robert J. Truhlar