MHRA Amendment Secures Jury Trials for Minnesota Discrimination Victims
Yesterday, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law an amendment to the Minnesota Human Rights Act that will ensure victims of discrimination and retaliation are entitled to a jury trial. The bill, SF2322, was passed by the House and Senate in previous weeks and will go into effect on August 1, 2014.
Previously, there was uncertainty over whether a victim of workplace discrimination, harassment, or retaliation would receive a jury trial, and to what level the jury’s verdict was entitled to deference. Due to a legal intersection of federal, state, common, and statutory law, and depending on what claims were brought and in what venue, there were often instances were individuals who have been the target of illegal activity by their employer have only been allowed a trial by judge.
The new law is a good news for Minnesota employees, who enjoy the protection of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The MHRA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, sex/gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, national origin and citizenship, familial and martial status, religion, veteran status, public assistance status, genetic information, and harassment and retaliation.
Employees not subject to a workplace collective bargaining contract or an individual employment contract are generally deemed “at will” employees. While employers commonly state that such employees can be fired at any time for any reason whatsoever, that is not entirely true. The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits terminating (or taking other adverse employment actions) against an individual on the basis of one or more of the above protected statuses.
While Minnesota does not recognize a common law “wrongful termination” or “wrongful discharge” claim, it is still illegal for an employer to terminate an individual on the basis of any of the above statuses, or as result of reporting or opposing such conduct or other illegal activity of an employer.
As trial lawyers primarily practicing in the areas of employment law and civil rights, we are thrilled that the State of Minnesota has once again stepped up its protections for Minnesota employees.
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Joshua Newville is an attorney and mediator based in Minnesota. He litigates employment and civil rights cases, serves as a mediator for civil disputes, and provides employment law advice.