Some employers can discriminate against their employees in ways that are not obvious. One scenario that can become the basis for a lawsuit is when an employer consistently treats members of a certain race, gender, religion, or other protected category differently from other employees.
A lawsuit brought in federal court in Denver alleged that a Colorado Department of Transportation (“CDOT”) employee was subjected to systematic gender discrimination.
Colorado Department of Transportation sued for gender discrimination
The woman bringing suit is the wife of former state Senator Randy Baumgardner. Her job duties as a maintenance worker for CDOT included fixing fences and guardrails, along with plowing through mountain passes.
The main points in the labor lawsuit were related to problems with a selection process for promotions that had no objective standards for evaluation, and was also controlled entirely by male board members. The plaintiff in this particular action said she was discrimination against and experienced harm for being passed over for promotions multiple times. She stated that the government agency still functions like an old boys’ club in practice, despite rules on the books about gender equality and nondiscrimination. She has been denied the promotion from first to second level maintenance worker on several occasions, most recently in 2017.
Baumgardner’s attorney believes that this subjective selection process has a disparate impact on female employees who try to get promoted within the department of transportation. Ms. Baumgardner first brought her complaint before the Colorado State Personnel Board, which was subsequently dismissed when the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined that she failed to prove unlawful discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. The ALJ reasoned in his decision that while Baumgardner’s experience and certification made her qualified for the position, it did not necessarily make her more qualified than the male employee who eventually received the promotion. The official reason given by the Colorado Department of Transportation for hiring the male candidate was that he outperformed Ms. Baumgardner during the interview process. “A jury will see this differently,” Baumgardner’s attorney states, thus the reason Baumgardner had filed her case in federal court, where it can be heard before a jury of her peers.
Data shows that the Colorado Department of Transportation is disproportionately male, with about 100 female employees versus almost 1500 male employees. The plaintiff expressed disappointment with CDOT and her frustration at the discriminatory attitudes the Department culture appears to have towards female employees. The Department of Transportation issued a statement in response claiming to be committed to their female employees and encourages women to apply for positions within the maintenance department.
Making a case for discrimination under Colorado law
To make a valid discrimination claim, the plaintiff will have to show that gender, or another protected category, was improperly used as a controlling factor in the employer’s decision concerning promotions, demotions, or the like. There are federal laws (and state law equivalents), such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protect employees from employment decisions wrongfully based on gender, race, and other protected characteristics. For a plaintiff wishing to bring a claim of employment discrimination, she will first need to show she is a member of a protected class. In the case illustrated above, Baumgartner’s allegation that she was denied a promotion because she is a woman is sufficient. She will then need to show that she was objectively qualified for the promotion or position. Other evidence related to her job performance and work history can be used to meet this element. The plaintiff must then show that even though she was objectively qualified, she was passed over or rejected for the promotion or desired position. Facts showing that the plaintiff was never promoted despite numerous attempts should be sufficient. Finally, the female employee must show that she was treated differently than other similarly situated male employees who were less objectively qualified. For example, a male employee, who was objectively less qualified applied for the same promotion or position and was selected over the female employee. If the female plaintiff can demonstrate all the above elements, then she has successfully raised a claim, or established a prima facie case, for employment discrimination based on gender. The same general fact-patterns described above are also required in order to bring an employment discrimination claim based on other protected classes, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.
Getting started after a workplace incident
It is recommended that someone wishing to pursue this kind of legal action against their employer only do so with the help of an attorney who specializes in labor and employment law. Laws and regulations are different for state and federal government employees versus employees in the private sector. A specialist lawyer will also greatly increase the chances that the lawsuit will succeed by helping you, the client, to create a winning litigation strategy.
Get help from a law firm in the Denver area
If you have experienced discrimination, harassment, or other work related issues, local attorneys can assist you. The attorneys at Anderson Barkley, LLC have experience handling labor and employment cases and can provide you with superior results and the advice you need.