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Colorado Public Radio resolves dispute with fired host Vic Vela, who alleged the station discriminated against him

Colorado Public Radio has resolved its dispute with fired host and reporter Vic Vela, who alleged he was terminated from the station because he asked for accommodations to help maintain his sobriety.

Vela, who rose to prominence in recent years through his podcast about addiction, recovery and mental health, alleged in joint U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Colorado Civil Rights Division complaints filed in March that CPR violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and a Colorado anti-discrimination law by failing to accommodate his disability needs.

Fired Colorado Public Radio reporter-host claims the station discriminated against him. CPR says his allegations are “false.”

Vic Vela, who rose to prominence in recent years through his podcast about addiction, recovery and mental health, filed a joint claim Tuesday with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

Vela also claimed that CPR’s leaders accused him of using his recovery for manipulation. He has candidly discussed his recovery from a crack cocaine addiction and his struggles with HIV.

Vela was fired in January for insubordination after working at the station for nine years.

“I am pleased to announce that the dispute involving me and my former employer, Colorado Public Radio, has been resolved,” Vela said in a written statement Friday to The Colorado Sun. “Additionally, and with my gratitude, CPR is supporting me and my efforts to produce future episodes of the award-winning podcast, ‘Back from Broken.’”

Vela said he couldn’t say more about the terms of the resolution, but that his attorney, Iris Halpern of the prominent Denver civil rights firm Rathod Mohamedbhai, would be requesting the dismissal of the complaints filed with the EEOC and Colorado Civil Rights Division.

The radio station, which has firmly denied Vela’s claims, confirmed to The Sun on Friday that the “matter has been resolved” and said it “encourage(s) Vic in his future endeavors and his continuing efforts to educate the community.” But it declined to say more.

“We will not be commenting any further,” Clara Shelton, senior marketing and communications specialist at CPR, said in a written statement.

In April, CPR President and CEO Stewart Vanderwilt wrote in a letter that “Vela was terminated not because of a disability or experience with addictions, but because he repeatedly failed to address his hostile behavior.”

Vanderwilt added the station “offered Mr. Vela ample opportunities to correct it and move forward. Ultimately, he was unable to meet those expectations.”

Vela’s firing and his discrimination allegations garnered international attention. A group of Democratic state lawmakers in Colorado sent CPR a letter accusing the station of mistreating Vela, which prompted Vanderwilt’s letter.

His complaint was filed a few days after CPR announced it was laying off 15 people in its audio and podcast production departments because of what Vanderwilt called “changing economic realities.”

Vela, who worked as CPR’s weekend host in addition to producing his “Back From Broken” podcast, said the accommodations he asked for, but was not provided, included:

  • Moving production of the “Back From Broken” podcast into the newsroom from CPR’s audio innovations unit because he was clashing with a manager whom he felt was hostile toward addiction recovery
  • Resources to cope with a stressful work environment — including the station’s financial struggles — from the head of human resources, who promised to provide that assistance. “I was often telling CPR leadership that the issues going on with the morale — that it was affecting my mental health, it was affecting my ongoing recovery,” Vela said. “If you know anything about addiction, the one thing that you learn in recovery is you have to recognize triggers.”
  • Asking a manager to be present for difficult workplace conversations that could be triggering

Halpern, Vela’s attorney, said the Americans with Disabilities Act obligates employers — not employees — to develop accommodations for workers who fall under its protections and ask for assistance.

Vela said his plans to continue production of “Back From Broken” will be announced at a later date.

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