Defending Against Discrimination Claims in Minnesota

typewriter.jpgIt is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s protected class. Doing so opens an employer up to litigation. Below, we briefly examine discrimination laws and the basic elements you should understand if you are a business owner or employer in Minnesota.

Defining discrimination

Discrimination is the act of treating someone differently or denying them opportunities because they have specific traits or characteristics. In the workplace, this can mean firing, not hiring, refusing to promote, or engaging in any other unfair treatment related to the terms of employment.

What is a protected class?

A protected class is a group of people with state and federal legal protections. For instance, we have the Minnesota Human Rights Act which names the following protected classes shielded by discrimination laws.

  • Race
  • National origin
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Marital or familial status
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Public assistance
  • Activity with local human rights commission

Taking adverse actions against employees because of their protected class can result in a discrimination claim, and one of the most important first steps an employer can take is carefully articulating the stated reason for termination.

In the termination meeting itself, the discharged employee may ask why they are being terminated. It is often advisable not to answer the question right then and there, but rather to inform the employee that if they would like to make that request in writing, you would be happy to provide a stated reason in writing.

An employee then has fifteen working days after termination to request the true reason for their discharge, after which the employer has ten working days to inform them of that reason. Minn. Stat. sec. 181.933, subd. 1. Making that statement in writing has the advantage of giving the employer time and opportunity to best construct the statement itself.

However, it does also “lock” an employer in, so overstating it, or misstating it can cause problems down the road if it is misconstrued, and the employee argues that the employer’s stated reason is “pretext” to hide a discriminatory reason.

If you are an employer accused of discriminating against a discharged employee, consider consulting with an employment law attorney to make sure you start your defense on the right foot.