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Ruling On Discrimination Case Against Denver Health Could Set New Precedent

DENVER (CBS4) - The state's highest court is set to weigh-in on a year's long discrimination case filed against Denver Health. Brent Houchin worked at the hospital for nearly five years.

(credit: CBS)

"As the employee relations and engagement manager I spent a lot of time ensuring employees were treated fairly, and that the organization handled policy procedure appropriately," he said.

When he was told he was being let go over a HIPAA violation he was shocked.

"This is my job to make sure these sort of things don't happen, so it's strange when it happens to you," Houchin said.

Brent Houchin (credit: CBS)

The termination came just five weeks after he began working under a new manager.

"He wouldn't shake my hand when we were in my one on one, and I started talking about my husband who I've been with for 28 years, and he was startled by that and sat back and was totally confused and looked actually disgusted," Houchin said.

Civil Rights Attorney Merrily Archer heard his story and says immediately took the case. She filed a lawsuit against Denver Health on his behalf claiming they violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

"Denver Health didn't answer the complaint at all on the merits, instead what they said is that the law doesn't apply to us," she said.

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Merrily Archer (credit: CBS)

According to Archer, the hospital's argument in court boils down to how the law was written.

"As a result in that change of the law that suddenly employment discrimination claims became more like personal injury, like car wrecks or slip in falls. More like a TORT is what lawyers would call it, and because we are the government, we enjoy immunity from those TORT-like claims," she said of the argument.

An argument that, if upheld, would apply to a number of agencies across the state.

"The special districts, the school districts, the municipalities, frankly the public servants are carved out and don't get the protection of that law," she said.

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Colorado State Supreme Court (credit: CBS)

It has now been referred to the Colorado State Supreme Court because of its public importance and the potential impact to any LGBT employee who works in a special district.

Making it more important than ever for Houchin to continue his fight.

"It's really not entirely about me. It's about a lot of other people who deserve the same rights everybody else gets," he said.

CBS4 reached out to Denver Health for comment on the status of the case. In a statement, Simon Crittle, a spokesperson for the hospital said:

"Denver Health values diversity in the community and in its workforce.  Our staff and patients are protected against discrimination by state and federal laws.  In addition, Denver Health maintains strong policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, and national origin.  We will defend ourselves against claims that we believe are unfounded, both factually and legally, to ensure we are able to fulfill our mission of providing care for all and to protect the excellent reputation we have earned over many years with the LGBT community."

A decision on the case could come down from the state supreme court could come at any time.


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