Legal Alert: Colorado Amends Law to Add Sexual Orientation and Religion to the List of Classes Protected from Employment Discrimination

Date   Jun 5, 2007

On May 25, 2007, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter approved legislation expanding Colorado's ban on employment discrimination to include sexual orientation and religion.


On May 25, 2007, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter approved legislation expanding Colorado's ban on employment discrimination to include sexual orientation and religion. The law's amendment makes Colorado the 19th state to ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The other states are: New Jersey, California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., Washington state, Connecticut,

Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Currently, Colorado's employment law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, and ancestry. The expansion of the state's employment discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and religion as protected classes is effective August 8, 2007.
Under the amended statute, it is an unfair employment practice for an employer to refuse to hire, to promote or demote, to harass during the course of employment, or to discriminate in matters of compensation against any otherwise qualified person because of the person’s sexual orientation or religion. Although the amended statute does not define religion, it defines sexual orientation as “a person’s orientation toward heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender status or an employer’s perception thereof.”

The amended statute will apply to all employers with employees in Colorado regardless of where the employer is located. The statute specifically provides that religious organizations or associations are exempt from the nondiscrimination provisions, unless the organization or association is supported in whole or in part by money raised through taxation or public borrowing.

The statute also includes a provision that permits a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society to employ individuals of a particular religion without violating the nondiscrimination provisions. Thus, religious associations that qualify for the general exemption may make hiring decisions based on religious preference without violating the statute.

An issue that was debated but eventually rejected was the adoption of a gender-specific dress code section. However, the statute does address how an employer may lawfully handle dress code issues. Under the amended statute, an employer may require compliance with a reasonable dress code so long as the dress code is applied consistently.

Employers' Bottom Line:

Although the issue of sexual orientation employment discrimination has been debated in Colorado for nearly a decade, it is now the law. Colorado employers must make certain that their human resources departments are aware of this additional protected class in addressing employment matters. Further, while it has not received as much press attention, employers should be equally aware that employment discrimination based on religion is unlawful.

If you have any question regarding this law, or any other Colorado labor or employment-related issue, please contact the author of this Alert, Melissa Rye, 303-592-8878, or any member of Ford & Harrison's Denver office.