Prohibitions against sex discrimination in employment in Minnesota

Minnesota and federal law prohibit employment discrimination based on sex.

A woman is fired when she announces her pregnancy at work. A long-time female employee with a history of positive employment reviews finds out the men she started with in the same position are getting more generous benefit packages. A successful male professional in a traditional female field is continually passed over for promotion in favor of women with less seniority and experience. At work, a woman is repeatedly exposed to her male colleagues’ inappropriate banter and jokes of a sexual nature.

Employment discrimination law

All of these scenarios are likely illegal under Minnesota and federal laws against employment discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act or MHRA is the main state civil rights and anti-discrimination law, prohibiting discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment on the basis of sex (or any of 10 other protected characteristics). Any Minnesota employer that has at least one employee must comply with the MHRA, which reaches smaller employers than comparable federal anti-discrimination laws.

Types of sex discrimination

Two types of discrimination that fall under the umbrella of sex discrimination in employment are pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment. Under Minnesota law, in addition to gender, discrimination based on “sex” includes pregnancy, childbirth and related disabling conditions.

The MHRA defines “sexual harassment” in employment as including “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors [or] sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature when” any of the following are true:

  • Submission is an explicit or implicit term or condition of being hired.
  • Submission or rejection is a factor in employment-related decisions.
  • It interferes substantially with employment or creates an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive employment … environment.”

Discriminatory acts based on sex under the MHRA include refusing to hire on that basis; terminating an employee on that basis; or discriminating based on “hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities, or privileges of employment.” An employer’s action that would otherwise be discriminatory is not if “based on a bona fide occupational qualification.” Certain other exemptions apply like employment by certain immediate family members.

Under Minnesota and federal law, it is also illegal to take negative action against an employee who has filed a sex discrimination claim or made internal reports. Under Minnesota law, this is an unlawful reprisal; under federal it is called retaliation.

Minnesota anti-discrimination laws are enforced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights or MDHR, a state agency. Aggrieved employees may file complaints alleging sex discrimination by their employers with the MDHR, which will investigate the situation and has the power to either try the matter within the agency’s quasi-judicial process or file a state court complaint.

Alternatively, an employee may file a complaint in state court for violation of the MHRA for sex discrimination in employment.

An employer’s liability may be for any or all of the following:

  • Back pay and missed benefits
  • Compensatory damages (up to triple the actual amount)
  • Punitive damages (meant to punish and deter) capped at $25,000
  • Civil penalty
  • Legal fees
  • Damages for suffering or mental anguish
  • Reinstatement, promotion or hiring of the victim
  • And more

Any Minnesota employee who has endured sex discrimination at work should contact an experienced employment law attorney as early as possible, like one from Bloomington’s Villaume & Schiek, P.A. Discrimination laws are complex and intricate, involving federal and state laws, agencies and courts and important deadlines and decisions on the part of those discriminated against. Knowledgeable legal guidance is imperative to understanding and preserving all claims.

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