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Minnesota domestic violence victims might face discrimination

Minnesota readers are likely aware of the potential fiscal cliff facing Congress, as it deliberates over the federal budget. As funding for various projects is reviewed and debated, at least one editorial in a Minnesota newspaper urged lawmakers to continue to provide funding to support the protections offered by the Violence Against Women Act.

That law, passed in 1994, authorized funding to help victims of domestic violence and abuse. As characterized by the editorialist, the law provided landmark funding for rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, the establishment of a national hot line for victims, and measures such as education programs for judges, law enforcement officers and prosecutors.

Yet domestic violence victims may also face challenges in the workplace. Discrimination based on domestic violence is not a protected category under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nevertheless, the EEOC recently issued a Q&A fact sheet which advises that the employment discrimination protections offered by the federal law might also apply to domestic abuse victims, albeit under specific circumstances.

For example, an employer's termination or refusal to hire a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault based on gender stereotypes -- such as a belief that battered women bring drama to the workplace -- would likely constitute disparate treatment based on sex, which is prohibited by Title VII.

Critics of the EEOC's publication, however, observe that termination decisions not based on race, color, sex, natural origin, or religion might withstand court scrutiny. For example, an employer's decision to terminate an abuse victim solely because the situation threatened the safety of other employees might be unimpeachable. Even in that instance, however, the employer might have to demonstrate concrete facts proving that the decision was not based on gender. One such scenario might involve an employee with an abusive partner who had not only a demonstrated history of violence, perhaps involving a weapon, but also against whom a protective order had been issued.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault but fear disclosing that information to your employer, an experienced employment law attorney can advise you of your legal options. Perhaps a proactive approach, advising your employer that a former partner was violent and shouldn't be allowed to visit you at the workplace, will protect both your safety and your job.

Source: Star Tribune, "Editorial: Renew and expand support for women," Dec. 11, 2012

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