Discrimination in the Workplace | Minnesota Human Rights Act

The Minnesota Human Rights Act provides that it is an unfair employment practice for any employer to:

  • Refuse to hire, or maintain a system of employment which unreasonably excludes a person seeking employment;
  • Discharge an employee; or
  • Discriminate against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities or privileges of employment based upon any of the following:
    • race,
    • color,
    • creed,
    • religion,
    • national origin,
    • sex,
    • marital status,
    • status with regard to public assistance,
    • membership or activity in a local commission,
    • disability,
    • sexual orientation, or
    • age.222

When discrimination is referred to anywhere in this Guide, the reference is to any adverse employment action (e.g. termination, demotion, etc.) against a member of any group (i.e. “protected class”) protected by local, state, or federal law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991 is the primary federal statute prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. Under Title VII, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, the protected classes are: race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of age and applies to employers with 20 or more employees.223 Disability is also a protected class under federal law for private employers with 15 or more employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act.224 Employers should be aware that part-time employees and contingent workers may be counted as “employees” for purposes of coverage under federal law.225

It is beyond the scope of this post to describe all of the different ways in which employees can attempt to prove discrimination and how employers can best defend against such claims. However, as a general matter, discrimination claims often turn on the issue of whether the employer took some adverse employment action for a legitimate business reason or whether the employer’s stated reason is a pretext for discrimination. The United States Supreme Court and Minnesota Supreme Court have ruled that disbelief of the employer’s stated reason for an adverse employment action may infer that a discriminatory reason was the real reason for the action and that an employee need not produce additional evidence in order to prove discrimination.226 Thus, it is very important in any adverse employment action for the employer to carefully consider the reasons for its actions and to communicate those reasons accurately and consistently to the affected employee. Incomplete or inconsistent explanations may leave an employer vulnerable to the allegation that it acted unlawfully.

CREDITS: This is an excerpt from A Guide to Starting a Business in Minnesota, provided by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Small Business Assistance Office, Twenty-eighth Edition, January 2010, written by Charles A. Schaffer, Madeline Harris, and Mark Simmer. Copies are available without charge from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Small Business Assistance Office.

222. Minn. Stat. § 363A.08, subd. 2 (2007).
223. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (2007); 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (2007).
224. 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2007).
225. Walters v. Metro. Educ. Enter., Inc., 519 U.S. 202 (1997); EEOC Notice, Number 915.002, December 3, 1997; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b) (2007).
226. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods, Inc., 530 U.S. 133 (2000); St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993); Hoover v. Norwest Private Mortgage Banking, 632 N.W. 2d 534, 546 (Minn. 2001).
227. Minn. Stat. § 363A.20 (2007).