A federal court considering a claim that the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) prohibits discrimination in hiring against those “associated” with a disabled Minnesotan has hinted that, in the right circumstances, it would entertain such a lawsuit.
Recent case: A man who has worked for U.S. Steel for many years is disabled with blindness in one eye. He fought for several years to have the company provide reasonable accommodations for his disability. U.S. Steel eventually agreed to accommodate the man’s disability, and paid him a lump sum for taking so long.
Then the man’s son, Ryan, began applying for jobs with U.S. Steel. He was interviewed once, but rejected even though he thought he was qualified.
Ryan sued under the MHRA, alleging that U.S. Steel violated Subsection 1 of the law when it refused to give him a job. Ryan’s suit claims that the company’s refusal to hire him was retaliation against his father, since his father “opposed a practice forbidden under [the MHRA].”
Specifically, Ryan alleges that his father engaged in protected activity when he complained about U.S. Steel’s failure to accommodate his disability, and that U.S. Steel “engage[d] in … reprisal” against his father by refusing to give Ryan a job.
The court dismissed the claim based on Minnesota cases that require someone suing under the subsection to also have opposed the illegal practice. Ryan had not.
But the court added that if Ryan had sued under Subsection 2, he might have a case. That section prohibits discrimination against those associated with the disabled. Since Ryan was associated with his father and wasn’t hired, he could have argued that he suffered discrimination because of his association. No doubt another applicant will now make that argument. (Dale v. U.S. Steel, No. 13-CV-1046, DC MN, 2015)