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Bill Aims to Extend Civil Rights in Colorado

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 By Kathleen RyanContact
February 7, 2011

DENVER - A bill making its rounds through the Legislature aims to extend federal civil rights protections to all Coloradans. The Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act would close a gap limiting legal recourse for some employees if they face discrimination on the job.

Ellen Emmanuel knows the problems of discrimination first-hand. She worked in a small business where one customer was constantly harassing her. One day the harassment turned physical.

"It got to the point where I did not feel safe in my working environment. I told my manager the situation, and she told me that I was a woman and I had to put up with it. She said she could not call the police because this was the company's biggest customer."

Because Emmanuel's company employed less than 15 workers, she was not protected under the federal Civil Rights Act, so she was forced to quit her job. However, this new bill would apply federal enforcement standards to companies of any size. It would also provide recourse for other protected classes in Colorado, such as sexual orientation or victims of domestic violence. Forty-one other states have passed similar legislation.

This bill would effectively put teeth in anti-discrimination laws currently on the Colorado books by attaching penalties to violations. It is sponsored by Sen. Morgan Carroll. She says the business lobby opposed similar legislation in past years, calling it too expensive for small companies.

"I find it absolutely stunning that nearly 50 years later, there's any debate and any question about covering these basic civil rights."

Emmanuel is now on unemployment. She says she's having a tough time finding a job in the current economy.

"I would have preferred nothing more than to stay at my job and still have a job, and for my employer to take responsibility and protect their employee over their customer."

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