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Expect suit to follow last-minute MDHR filing

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Employees who file a discrimination claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) within the one-year deadline set by the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) get an extension of time to file a lawsuit directly in court. That’s the conclusion recently reached by the Court of Appeals of Minnesota.

Recent case: Craig DeBerg, who was 50 years old, worked as a certified public accountant in Minneapolis. His supervisor then hired a thirtyish female to assist DeBerg. After she started, partners in the firm allegedly started making ageist comments to DeBerg and coaching him on how to work with “younger people.” Some allegedly asked him how long he expected to keep working.

The firm then fired DeBerg, and the female assistant took his job. DeBerg filed an age discrimination lawsuit with the MDHR one day before the end of the one-year deadline for filing complaints under the MHRA.

About seven weeks later, he filed an age discrimination lawsuit in state court. At that point, the MDHR dismissed his agency complaint.

In court, the accounting firm asked to have the lawsuit tossed out because it had not been filed within one year of the allegedly discriminatory firing.

The Court of Appeals of Minnesota refused to do so. It essentially said that employees who file their agency complaint within the one-year deadline could still sue in court while the agency is still considering their cases. (DeBerg v. RSM McGladrey, No. A07-1731, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2008)

Practical impact: If you learn that a former employee filed an MDHR complaint on the last day, expect a lawsuit. Filing the administrative complaint is probably just a way to buy more time. Contact your attorneys right away.

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