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MHRA: Court clarifies what’s marital bias

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) makes it an unfair employment practice to terminate an employee based on marital status. Until recently, courts interpreted that prohibition to mean that employers couldn’t fire employees based on whether they were married, not because of who they were married to.

The Court of Appeals of Minnesota has now clarified that the law covers more than the state of being married; it also bans discrimination based on who one’s spouse is.

Recent case: LeAnn Taylor worked as a receptionist for a cabinetry and casework company that services schools and health care facilities. Eleven years after Taylor was hired, Gary Taylor joined the company as its president. He began dating Taylor and the two married two years later. LeAnn was promoted into management.

Five years later, the CEO decided the company had to terminate a number of management employees, including Gary. LeAnn alleged she was told that, since Gary was probably relocating, “you’ll be relocating as well. So we just decided to eliminate your position.”

LeAnn sued, alleging that she had been terminated because she was married to Gary.

The company argued that the MHRA prohibits marital discrimination only if an individual is terminated because of her marital status, such as because she is married or divorced.

But LeAnn argued that the law is broader and prohibits discrimination based on whom someone is married to.

The Court of Appeals of Minnesota agreed with LeAnn and reinstated her marital status lawsuit. She will now have a chance to prove that she was terminated because she was married to Gary and not simply as part of a reduction in force, as the company had argued all along. (Taylor v. LSI Corporation, No. A09-1410, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2010)

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