Two former Colorado Coalition for the Homeless employees file job discrimination suits

The major services provider won’t comment on employment matters or pending litigation.
3 min. read
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless holds a vigil for the 233 (or more) people who died while experiencing homelessness on Denver streets this year. Dec. 22, 2018, (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Within a day of each other earlier this month, two former longtime employees of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless filed separate federal lawsuits accusing the nonprofit of job discrimination.

Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy for the coalition, said the Denver-based organization would not comment on employment matters or pending litigation.

One of the suits was filed Nov. 5 by Lisa Mares, a case manager and later senior case manager for the coalition from 2006 until 2017. Mares said in court papers that her job performance was excellent. She suffered PTSD after she was assaulted by a former fiance in late 2017 and she missed work days because of her condition. At her employer's request, she obtained a document from her doctor linking her absences to her PTSD, which she said constituted a disability. She said she was told in November of that year that she had been fired because of "excessive and unexcused absences."

In her court papers, Mares accused the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless of firing her because of her medical condition, which she alleges violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.m

The second suit was filed Nov. 6 by Kelly Sullivan, program manager at the coalition's Beacon Place transitional housing complex in West Colfax. Ralph Lamar, Mares's lawyer, told Denverite that the cases were not related.

Sullivan claims she was "discriminated against, retaliated against and wrongfully terminated in violation of federal and state law." She said in her complaint that during a 16-year tenure that began in 2011, she "worked diligently in her position and dealt with extremely tough problems, including potential active shooters, toxic contamination, persistent bed bug infestations, unfixable issues from the age of the building, and maintaining morale for perpetually underpaid employees."

In court papers, Sullivan said she had had good performance reviews until a new supervisor arrived in 2014. Sullivan accused the newcomer of "bullying, condescension and dishonesty." Sullivan added that she was accused by the supervisor of being unprofessional, uncommunicative and using illness as an excuse to avoid staff meetings, and of "creating a toxic work environment."

When Sullivan was fired in 2017, she said she was told it was in part because staff feared her. She said she had discussed that issue with her staff and her supervisor a year earlier and "believed it was resolved."

Sullivan, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and hypothyroidism, alleged she was fired because of misuse of leave, and that she was entitled to time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Both Sullivan and Mares seek unspecified damages and other compensation and have asked for jury trials.

As of Friday, court records showed the coalition had not yet filed a response in either case.

The coalition works across the state and is a major provider of housing and health care, employment and other support services for people experiencing or who have experienced homelessness.

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