Bill would lower standard for harassment complaints

A bill before the Minnesota legislature would establish a lower bar for sexual harassment victims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act than the one required to file claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Under the so-called Vinson standard (named for the federal case establishing it, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson), employees must show that harassment was “severe or pervasive” to prove it caused a hostile work environment.

The new Minnesota bill, HF4459, would eliminate the “severe or pervasive” standard, making it easier for sexual harassment victims to bring charges under state law.

The move comes in response to criticisms that the “severe or pervasive” standard doesn’t reflect modern day sensibilities about acceptable workplace behavior.

In light of the #MeToo movement, the bill has broad bipartisan support, but is opposed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Note: Regardless of whether this bill passes, employers should train continuously to ensure employees understand what behavior is and is not appropriate in today’s workplace.