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State Senator's Own Experience With Sexual Harassment Inspires Bill To Help Other Women  

DENVER (CBS4) - Four years ago, Sen. Faith Winter was at the center of a sexual harassment case that gripped the Colorado State Capitol. Now, she's using her experience to help other women like her.

Winter is sponsoring a bill that would make it easier for workers to seek recourse if they've been harassed or discriminated against. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says 85 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment at work but half of them didn't report it out of fear of retaliation and a third of those who did report it say nothing was done.

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Sen. Faith Winter (credit: CBS)

The bill would make it easier for those women to take their cases to court and win. Instead of having to prove harassment is severe or pervasive - the current standard, they would need to prove that it's offensive to a reasonable person. The bill also expands the definition of employee to include caregivers and independent contractors, protects against discrimination based on caregiver and marital status, expands the time to file a claim from six to ten months, and limits the use of confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements.

The Colorado Chamber of Commerce says the bill will open the floodgates to frivolous claims and is a double standard. Under the state's workplace policy, the same limits on non-disclosures don't exist and conduct must still be severe and pervasive to be harassment.

"If this legislation is rejecting a legal standard for harassment that has been used by court for decades, then come up with a standard that everyone can agree to, but also impose that standard on yourselves," says Loren Furman with the Chamber.

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Loren Furman (credit: CBS)

Winter says she's working to change the state policy, too.

"I want every worker in the state of Colorado, both inside the Capitol building and outside the Capitol building, to have clear expectations of a harassments-free, discrimination-free work environment," she said. "Through a law I can update it for the workers of Colorado. We have requested that the Executive Committee within this building update our workplace harassment policies and I'm confident they will take action this summer to make sure we do."

The bill also has provisions to protect workers from retaliation and protect employers who do take action from lawsuits. It would apply to workplaces with 20 or more employees. They would now have to provide training on harassment and discrimination and keep records or face steep fines.

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