In just a few short weeks, an amendment to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) that will provide a right to a jury trial for claims arising under that law will go into effect.
The MHRA prohibits discrimination and retaliation for opposing such discrimination in a variety of contexts, including public and private employment, housing, education, public accommodation, and more. Protected classes under the MHRA include race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, status with regarding to public assistance, sexual orientation, and age.
Prior to the amendment, there had been some debate and confusion regarding whether an individual asserting claims pursuant to the MHRA is entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers. Local plaintiff-side employment lawyers, including our firm, were forced to argue whether such a right existed, and whether a judge should defer to “advisory juries” on claims arising under the law. The amendment also makes the MHRA much more like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has long provided a right to a jury trial.
The impact the amendment will have on Minnesota employment law is positive for employees who have been unfairly terminated from their positions for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons. Jury trials help ensure victims of discrimination and retaliation a fair shake in court in a number of ways. First, jury trials necessarily require more a complete presentation of the case. Second, a trial by jury is more likely to be focused on the most important and essential claims of a case, reducing the complexity of a case and narrowing the scope of the dispute to the real problems. Third, the rules of evidence, the preparation of evidence, and the presentation of evidence at trial are more regulated when the case is presented to a jury than when it is only presented to a judge, preventing tangential issues from distracting the fact finder from the root issues of the case.
Especially in light of the amendment, persons who have been discriminated against and/or retaliated against in violation of the MHRA should strongly consider hiring a law firm that focuses on actual trial litigation.
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.