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Minnesota Legislative Session Coming Down to the Wire

Date: May 14, 2014

It is no big surprise but the legislature will not adjourn early as legislative leaders had hoped.  They entered the last week of the session with some major items that still need to be dealt with and must adjourn by next Monday, May 19th.  They did manage to keep the session relatively short, to 12 weeks, which is much shorter than many past short sessions. 

 

Senate Majority Caucus Folds Again on New Lawsuit Provisions against Employers in Women’s Bill

HF2536, Rep. Carly Melin (Hibbing) Sen. Sandy Pappas (St Paul)

 

A major disappointment occurred last week when the Senate Majority Caucus caved again and accepted a conference committee report that contained three new lawsuit provisions that will give employees new rights to sue their employers.  Most disappointing was the fact that the Senate’s version of the Women’s bill did not contain any of these provisions, but they completely conceded to House members in the conference committee and the leadership and most majority caucus senators voted for it.  Senator Julie Rosen (Fairmont) tried to send the bill back to the conference committee to rework some of these damaging lawsuit provisions and that unfortunately failed by a single vote.  This is similar to what occurred on the minimum wage issue; the Senate has not stood strong behind its more moderate, sensible positions on these bills and the House prevails. The bill was signed into law by Governor Dayton on Sunday.

 

The worst of the three new lawsuit provisions is adding familial status for employment purposes to the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which is Minnesota’s employment discrimination law. The other two new rights to sue do not involve the Human Right Act.  This is a dramatic and unworkable expansion of the Act and will likely cause many new lawsuits to be filed against employers, be they private, public, or nonprofit by their employees. The familial status provision dramatically expands the Human Rights Act to any worker who has children under age 18 and we fear it’s very unworkable.

 

It is also a big departure from the vast majority of the protected classes under the Human Rights Act, such as race, religion, national origin and more recently, sexual orientation and disability have been added.   With this latest law change we are now covering situations involving the worker, such as trying to juggle family needs and do their job, versus clearly defined protective classes that involve an inherent or permanent characteristic of the person or plaintiff.  Did family obligations really cause the person to do their job inadequately or are they just a poor performer? Did family obligations really cause them to miss work or is it just an excuse?  The various cases will still be decided on the facts, but elevating the plaintiff or the worker to a protected class gives them a leg up and they can also receive the assistance of the Department if they choose. 

 

Discrimination cases under the Human Rights Act can be costly and threatening for small businesses.  The cost of simply responding to a complaint can range from $5,000 to $25,000.  A case heard before an administrative law judge can cost from $50,000 to $100,000 and a full trial in district court can cost double to triple that.  NFIB strongly opposed the conference report on the Women’s Economic Security Act and tenaciously lobbied right up to the last minute.  It was very disappointing to come so close to achieving a victory and forcing the bill to be rewritten.

 

 





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