The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) is the state’s super anti-discrimination law combining the elements of several federal laws, including:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- Americans with Disabilities Act
While those federal anti-discrimination laws cover employers with 15 or more employees, the MHRA covers all employers regardless of size. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) (www.humanrights.state.mn.us/) enforces the law.
The MHRA bars employment discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation and age. Employers may not require job applicants “to furnish information that pertains to” membership in any of those protected classes.
Sexual orientation: The MHRA defines sexual orientation broadly to include sexual identity. That means employers may not discriminate against or harass transgendered employees. Whatever gender the employee identifies with is the one the employer must recognize.
Disabilities: Even though the MHRA covers all employers, it does not require employers with 15 or fewer employees to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled applicants or employees. However, those small employers can still be sued under the MHRA if they discriminate against disabled applicants or employees.
Employees may file discrimination complaints with the MDHR, whose adjudication process makes it easy for them to take their employers to court. The department offers voluntary mediation throughout the investigation process. But unlike the process at the federal level and in many other states, employees don’t have to wait for the MDHR to complete its investigation and issue a “right to sue” letter before initiating a lawsuit. Further, employees have one year from the last discriminatory act to file administrative charges, compared to generally 180 days under federal anti-discrimination laws.
If the MDHR completes its investigation before an employee takes the case to court, it will rule on whether there’s probable cause to believe a violation has occurred. If the department finds probable cause, it will refer the matter to the state’s attorney general.