Colorado House OKs expanding employment discrimination law to cover domestic workers | Legislature

By | July 2, 2023
Colorado House OKs expanding employment discrimination law to cover domestic workers | Legislature

Legislation to protect tens of thousands of domestic workers from employment discrimination passed a major hurdle Thursday, receiving approval from the Colorado House.

If enacted, House Bill 1367 would expand the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act to cover employees who work for private households, such as cleaners, gardeners, nannies or elderly care takers. The bill would also extend the time to file a claim with the Civil Rights Commission from 180 to 300 days and increase damages that can be recovered in age discrimination cases.

Said Rep. Susan Lontine, a Denver Democrat who is sponsoring the bill: “What we bring to you today will bring much needed relief and help with discrimination in employment to those who have been denied justice. … Currently, domestic workers lack the protections of CADA and HB-1367 removes that exclusion. It rightfully includes domestic workers.”

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee for disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age and nationality. If the bill were enacted, the state estimates it would result in around 200 additional discrimination complaints filed each year.

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The House passed the bill in a 40-23 vote Thursday, sending it to the Senate for consideration. All Democrat representatives voted in favor of the bill, while all Republicans voted in opposition.

Opponents described hiring domestic workers as a private decision that the state should have no hand in, arguing that employers should be allowed to take factors like sex, religion and nationality into account when hiring workers.

“What if you have a woman in the household who is a domestic violence victim, and they want to only hire women to do housework? They don’t want a man in their home because of their life experience,” said Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs. “What if you have an immigrant from Ukraine and somebody from Russia applies?”

The bill drafters said sex in some cases is a bona fide occupational qualification already protected by state statue and existing case law. They also passed an amendment to the bill specifying that it would not be discrimination to consider sex when hiring an employee for childcare-related work.

While Carver said these protections for employers don’t go far enough, supporters of the bill said it is the workers who need protection.

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“Frankly, there’s a pretty ugly history of discrimination and lack of redress for discrimination against people working in this domestic context,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora. 

The Colorado Women’s Bar Association said the historical decision not to include domestic workers in employment protections was intended to exclude industries where recently emancipated enslaved people worked in at the beginning of the Jim Crow Era.

In 2020, 2.2 million people worked as domestic workers in the U.S. — 91.5% of whom were women and 52.4% of whom were people of color, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute. Domestic workers are also disproportionately older, foreign-born and living in poverty.