Former Colorado Public Radio host files discrimination complaint

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Vic Vela sitting on a couch and talking


Vic Vela, a former reporter and podcaster for Colorado Public Radio, has filed a complaint alleging that the station discriminated and retaliated against him.

Vela filed the complaint last week with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Equal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He said CPR fired him soon after he “complained that conditions at work threatened my lifelong recovery efforts, and that I needed support and accommodation.”

Vela, who has a history of addiction, shared his experience with recovery and those of others in the CPR podcast Back From Broken. Vela had worked full-time at CPR since 2015. 

His complaint said the station “exploited my health condition and life story for financial gain and prestige, only to terminate me as soon as they had to deal with my disability.” He is also HIV-positive and has diabetes. 

In response, CPR said in a statement, “Any allegations associated with discrimination by CPR towards this individual are false.”

The statement confirmed that the station “parted ways” with Vela Jan. 3. It said he had “demonstrated behaviors that are not in alignment with the values, culture and environment we have at CPR. … This individual was provided opportunities to bring his behavior in alignment with our values but was unable to meet those expectations.”

Vela said in the complaint that morale at CPR suffered last year due to a decline in underwriting and an “accounting error of about $900,000” that he said led to “reduction to employee benefits, and a freeze on raises, new hiring, and retirement matching funds.” At the same time, he said, the station was raising millions of dollars for a new facility, which led to the workforce being “extremely demoralized.”

Vela said he told CPR News Director Andrew Villegas that the working conditions could cause him to relapse.

“I described my mental health challenges many times to him during this time period and asked for support, including helping me ameliorate some of the stress at work,” Vela wrote. “He did not follow up with me.” 

‘I felt undervalued’

Vela’s complaint also addressed a concern raised about him by another employee. In early 2023, Vela said, a new employee was set to produce an episode of Back From Broken. In a Slack channel for the show’s team, Vela asked to delay a meeting while he attended an appointment because he had concerns about an episode they were recording. He said he also had a “friendly phone call” with the new employee.

Those interactions prompted the employee to complain to Brad Turner, then head of CPR’s podcast unit. Vela said he was not disciplined, but the employee asked to meet with him and CPR Human Resources director LaToya Linzey. 

“Although I did not believe my communications warranted a meeting with human resources, we had a lively, productive conversation and hashed things out,” Vela said in the complaint.

After that meeting, he thought “everyone had moved on from the slack message incident.” But Turner and Sean Nethery, CPR’s VP of content, met with Vela to lay out “a new list of rules for my internal interactions and communications,” which included not contacting producers to provide feedback about his podcast. 

The rules were “suffused with stereotypes and unfounded fears about my addiction and mental health conditions, if not also clearly intended to cause me to resign,” Vela said. 

Vela told Turner and Nethery that he disagreed with the rules and that he “felt like I was being ‘picked on’ as ‘a person in recovery.’” He told them that he “thought the disparate treatment could cause ‘triggers,’ which in my case, might ‘send me back to the crack house,’” he wrote. 

“Instead of listening to me, Mr. Nethery took my words out of context and threw them back at me, accusing me of ‘using my addiction to manipulate us,’” he wrote. 

He added that Nethery “tritely said he’d make resources available to me if I wanted them, but he never followed up.”

Following the meeting, Vela asked executive editor Kevin Dale to move the podcast from under Turner’s direction to the newsroom. “Mr. Dale at first appeared to entertain the suggestion and indicated that I could continue to produce my podcast in the Newsroom,” he said. “When I followed up with him a few months later however, he pretended as if the conversation never took place. Instead, he stated he could not commit to such an accommodation and that CPR instead intended to cancel ‘Back from Broken.’”

Later, Vela said, he didn’t receive a full merit-based pay increase for the first time in his career because of “alleged conflicts with others.”

“Upset, I emailed management my resignation notice, explaining how I felt undervalued,” he said. After sending the resignation, Linzey called him and said “if I stayed at CPR, which I agreed to do, she would get me some resources to support my mental health and recovery issues.”

He said he emailed management to rescind his offer but never heard back from Linzey about resources. 

Vela’s termination

In April or May of 2023, Vela said, he filed an internal complaint about the “systematic dismissiveness of my ideas” by PD Gillian Coldsnow. He said he didn’t hear anything until December 2023 when he was brought into a meeting with Linzey and Coldsnow.

During the meeting, Coldsnow suggested a monthly meeting with Vela. Vela countered by suggesting meeting every other month with email check-ins in between. He said during the meeting that he “noted that from my past experiences with recovery, too many meetings could be emotionally exhausting and triggering because excessive meetings took time away from my ability to focus on and complete my work.”

During the meeting, Linzey “continuously interrupted me, ignoring my perspective, and finally flatly stated that my prior experiences with triggers and recovery were irrelevant,” he said. 

Vela said he was then terminated Jan. 3 for insubordination. 

He claimed that CPR began opposing his requests for unemployment benefits when the station learned that he had hired an attorney and would be filing the discrimination charge.  

“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,” he wrote. 

A fundraiser for Vela has raised more than $7,500 as of Tuesday afternoon.

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