To prove a claim for sexual harassment under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, a victim typically must produce evidence establishing that the alleged conduct was unwelcome, consisted of verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature, and was sufficiently pervasive to the extent it substantially interfered with the victim's employment or created a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment.
A recent lawsuit involving charges of sexual harassment against a Minnesota employer demonstrates that courts sometimes disagree in applying that evidentiary standard. The charges were brought by three female employees against their former employer, the owner and sole shareholder of a restaurant and motel in Two Harbors, Minnesota. The complaint alleged that the three employees quit their jobs after their boss subjected them to sexually harassing conduct and inappropriate sexual comments.
The woman who worked for the employer the longest claimed that her boss' behavior became inappropriate after she had been there six months. Specifically, she claimed he talked about sex often, used explicit sexual terms, vividly described his sexual dreams, and even brought an adult magazine and pornographic DVD to work and shared the photos with his employees. The inappropriate conduct also included physical contact on a few occasions. However, the woman was scared to complain because her husband had been laid off and they needed the money. When he returned to work, however, she quit. Two other female employees made similar allegations, and each eventually quit.
The lower court determined that the women's testimony was credible, but that the alleged behavior -- even if true -- did not satisfy the standard for a hostile work environment claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. On appeal, however, that decision was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The appeals court emphasized that the alleged conduct more than met the standard for sexual harassment under Minnesota's law, in terms of both pervasiveness and severity.
If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you may feel uncomfortable about reporting the unlawful conduct. However, an attorney can review your case in confidence, advising you of your legal rights and various courses of action. No one should have to tolerate unwelcome sexual advances at work.
Source: hr.blr.com, "Sexual harassment: Did conduct create a hostile work environment?" Nov. 8, 2012
· Our firm handles situations similar to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Minneapolis Sexual Harassment Lawyer page.