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Colorado Public Radio host alleges he was fired and mocked for his addiction and mental health history

Award-winning podcast and radio host Vic Vela says Colorado Public Radio monetized his story of addiction and recovery, then fired him after he asked for accommodations for those same disabilities.

Vela on Tuesday filed a charge of discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging CPR management belittled and mocked his mental health concerns and accused him of using his addiction to manipulate higher-ups.

“Addiction is a living hell,” Vela said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not a Disney movie.”

Jodi Gersh, CPR’s senior vice president for audience and development, said in a statement that “any allegations associated with discrimination by CPR towards this individual are false.”

CPR fired Vela in January after he had worked at the station for nine years, he said. Since 2020, he hosted “Back from Broken,” a podcast about mental health and substance abuse conditions, which Vela knows all too well. On the podcast and in his personal life, Vela has spoken candidly about his crack cocaine addiction and living with HIV.

Until last year, Vela said, his time at CPR was “really beautiful.” That all changed, he said, as workplace morale took a nose-dive in light of the station’s financial struggles.

As work became more stressful, Vela said he approached management to ask for workplace accommodations — something he had never done in nine years with the company.

“As a person in recovery, one of the things that is vital for me to survive is to recognize triggers,” Vela told The Post. “I was being honest with them — how stress was impacting my recovery and creating triggers that threatened my sobriety.”

But Vela said leadership didn’t take his concerns seriously. Instead, when he said the triggers could “send him back to the crack house,” management “mocked and disparaged my recovery.”

“The insinuation I would use my addiction to get something out of this, to manipulate CPR, is audacious and insulting,” Vela said.

CPR’s Gersh said in an interview that “100% he never asked for a single accommodation.”

“Over the past several years, this person has demonstrated behaviors that are not in alignment with the values, culture and environment we have at CPR,” Gersh said in her statement. “This individual was provided opportunities to bring his behavior in alignment with our values but was unable to meet those expectations.”

In 2023, Vela said he had an incident with another employee, who felt Vela was disrespectful in an internal message. Soon after, he said, leadership told him his “behavior was a problem,” and instituted new rules for how he communicated with colleagues.

In January, management told Vela he was being fired for “insubordination,” he said. They told him he would not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

“I believe that CPR harbored and suffered from misconceptions, myths and stigmas associated with my diagnoses, and for this reason, and because I stood up for my rights, terminated me,” Vela wrote in the discrimination charge.

The Centennial-based public radio station last week laid off 15 people, primarily in the audio and podcast production departments, marking the largest cut to payroll in at least 25 years, CPR reported.

The company’s chief executive officer, Stewart Vanderwilt, said in an interview with CPR on Monday that the station has been in the red the past two years.

In his discrimination complaint, Vela said management told staff before the start of 2023 that the company made a “significant accounting error” of $900,000 that led to a reduction in employee benefits and “a freeze on raises, new hiring and retirement matching funds.”

Gersh told The Post it was not an accounting error, but rather a report that incorrectly stated the company’s financial health. Leadership didn’t realize it for two months and decided to tell the staff, she said.

“There was never anything wrong with the accounting side,” Gersh said. “There was never money missing.”

The error had nothing to do with the recent layoffs, she added.

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