Wife of former Colorado lawmaker sues CDOT in federal court, alleges gender discrimination

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DENVER -- A long-time Colorado Department of Transportation employee and the wife of former state Sen. Randy Baumgardner is suing CDOT in federal court for gender discrimination.

Lori Baumgardner, who plows mountain passes, fixes guardrails and repairs fences as part of her job, says the state agency passed her over for a promotion because she is female.

“I’ve worked for CDOT for 19 years, and somebody that had less years and less experience than I’ve had got the job,” Baumgardner said.

Baumgardner, who worked as a Transportation Maintenance I Worker (or a TM I), applied to be promoted to a TM II position multiple times, according to her lawsuit. Most recently, she applied for the Kremmling-based position in 2017.

“The selection process for promotions is controlled by male panel members with no objective criteria used for evaluating candidates, which has a disparate impact on those women who do try to promote within CDOT,” the lawsuit read.

Baumgardner alleged she had more experience than the man who received the promotion.

“They’ve got to figure out a better way to promote people than the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club,” said Baumgardner.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers learned Baumgardner previously brought her case in front of an administrative law judge at the Colorado State Personnel Board but lost when a judge ruled she had “not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that (CDOT) unlawfully discriminated against her.”

“While (Baumgardner’s heavy equipment operator certification) probably made her more qualified than (the other candidate) for an Equipment Operator vacancy, it did not make her more qualified than him for the TM II position at issue in this appeal,” a judge wrote in his initial decision.

“I think a jury will see this differently. This was an administrative hearing, and in federal court we go before a jury. And I believe a jury would see this much differently,” said Mark Schwane, an attorney who represents Baumgardner. “She just wants a level playing field for all workers who try to promote – particularly women,” he added. “Everyone should be evaluated the same way.”

According to records from the administrative hearing, CDOT officials claimed they hired the male candidate over Baumgardner because “he outperformed (Baumgardner) during the interview.”

“I am so frustrated at times that I can’t recommend women to work here,” said Baumgardner. “But then other times, I love my job so much, I want other people to share in it. I guess if they could figure out a way to make it so even the attitudes against women are gone… and (women are) accepted as an equal so that we get the help we need and the support we need instead of being slightly discredited all the time.”

CDOT's maintenance division is male-dominated. In 2018, it employed approximately 100 women and more than 1,500 men.

CDOT would not comment on the allegations made in the lawsuit.

However, the agency said it encourages women to apply for positions within the maintenance department.

Tamara Rollison, a CDOT spokesperson, gave the following statement:

"The percentage of women in CDOT's workforce has increased from 18 percent in 2018 to nearly 20 percent today. We have experienced an increase in the number of female executives, including our top executive, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. 

Women lead CDOT's transportation development, program management, innovative mobility, human resources as well as two of our regional offices. 

There are also many more women in management and support roles. Similar to transportation departments across the country, we have more men than women working in our maintenance forces. The pool of candidates in this area is predominantly men.

We strongly encourage women to apply for maintenance and all positions within CDOT. We have a very comprehensive and thorough hiring process to employ qualified candidates, in addition to training and educational opportunities. We give equal employment opportunity to all persons regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or handicap."

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