Update on Standard for Minnesota Sexual Harassment Claims
By Kevin M. Mosher • Nov 22, 2019
Another busy month in Minnesota with an update on the severe and pervasive standard for sexual harassment claims! HR professionals and risk managers across the country should take note of what Minnesota is proposing in the wake of the #METOO movement, because tenets of these actions may be seen in other states.
In general, to prove a sexual harassment claim in Minnesota, one must show the sexual harassment was so severe or pervasive it created an abusive work environment. In early 2019, Minnesota legislators sought to remove the “severe or pervasive” standard from sexual harassment cases but were unsuccessful. Although the severe or pervasive standard remains in place today, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear a case dismissed 2017 regarding this issue.
In December of 2017, Hennepin County Judge Mel Dickstein thoroughly reviewed the severe and pervasive standard and emphasized the extremely high burden it placed on plaintiffs. This case was argued last week in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and the Court will now reexamine the standard.
It is important to note the court may be able to accomplish what the legislature failed to do and eliminate this standard entirely. If the court decides to relax the standard, plaintiffs will have a much easier time establishing an actionable sexual harassment claim against their employers, exposing employers to a greater risk of liability.
In an era of #MeToo, the Minnesota Supreme Court may be more inclined to scrutinize the appropriateness of the “severe and pervasive” standard than ever before. While no one knows how the court will rule on this issue, it is crucial to follow the quickly evolving law regarding sexual harassment in the workplace and ensure compliance by thoroughly training employees and management and implementing procedures for handling sexual harassment claims.
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