RIGHTS BLOG: Updates from the Department of Human Rights

Reflect on Success While Continuing to Create a More Vibrant Economy for All

Posted on 9/27/2013

As a society, we have made progress coming back from the depths of the most recent recession as the number of jobs in the United States is up to 144.2 million. The unemployment rate in the United States has dropped to 7.3 percent and in Minnesota we are fortunate to have an employment rate of only 5.1 percent. While we should celebrate our recent success, we also need to recognize that not everyone is sharing in the success. The current rate of unemployment for low-income families in the United States –- those earning less than $20,000 –- is 21 percent, which matches the rate of all workers during the 1930s Great Depression. Moreover, 16 percent of all adults over 16 are "underutilized" as they are either:

  • unemployed,
  • underemployed (in part time jobs when full time work is desired, or
  • hidden unemployed (not actively job hunting but have a desire for immediate work).

This month the United States Census Bureau reported that the nation's official poverty rate in 2012 stands at 15 percent, which represents 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line. The United States poverty rate unfortunately remains 2.5 percent higher than 2007, the year before the economic downturn.

In contrast, households with incomes of more than $150,000 have an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, a level traditionally defined as full employment.

Let us take a moment to be thankful for the progress we have made in Minnesota in lowering the unemployment rate to 5.1 percent. Since Governor Dayton has taken office, 122,000 jobs were created. We have every right to acknowledge the hard work we have undertaken to lower the unemployment rate.

However, let us not rest on our laurels as we still need to keep working toward creating more livable-wage jobs to lift more people out of poverty.

U.S. DOL Gives Same-Sex Spouses Access to Pension Benefits

Posted on 9/24/2013

In a September 18 release the U.S. Department of Labor issued technical guidance on the treatment of same-sex married spouses for benefits covered under the ERISA statue (Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974). The guidance states that "spouse" and "marriage" should be read to include all couples who are legally married in any state or foreign jurisdiction regardless of where they currently reside.

The guidance states:

In general, where the Secretary of Labor has authority to issue regulations, rulings, opinions, and exemptions in title I of ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, as well as in the Department's regulations at chapter XXV of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the term "spouse" will be read to refer to any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages.(2) Similarly, the term "marriage" will be read to include a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law. This is the most natural reading of those terms; it is consistent with Windsor, in which the plaintiff was seeking tax benefits under a statute that used the term "spouse"; and a narrower interpretation would not further the purposes of the relevant statutes and regulations.

This guidance, in keeping with earlier guidance from the IRS and other agencies, reinforces the standard of 'place of celebration' for federal recognition of marriages. If a couple is legally married in a jurisdiction that allows that marriage, then their marriage is recognized even if they current reside in a jurisdiction that does not recognize their marriage. This means that a same-sex couple married in Minnesota who moves to another state will continue to have that marriage recognized by a growing number of federal government programs and agencies. More information about same-sex marriages in Minnesota from the Department of Human Rights can be found here: http://mn.gov/mdhr/about/press_06-28-13_samesex.html

MDHR Names Flynn New Assistant Commissioner

Posted on 9/10/2013

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights recently welcomed Tim Flynn as its new Assistant Commissioner to lead the Contract Compliance and Enforcement Units.

He and his compliance team help ensure that the entire community benefits from public contracting dollars by enforcing laws requiring state contractors to demonstrate their compliance with equal opportunity requirements. The enforcement team is responsible for investigating alleged violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Flynn previously served as Deputy Director of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity for the City of St. Paul, and has served in the private sector for over 20 years. Mr. Flynn received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Philosophy and English from St. Mary's University in Winona, and his law degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

MDHR: Increasing Efficiency, Reducing Case Backlog, Improving Client Satisfaction

Posted on 9/10/2013

"People who live and do business in Minnesota rightly expect government to work fast, better and more efficiently… We, who serve in government, have an important obligation to improve how it works." ~ Governor Mark Dayton

When Commissioner Kevin Lindsey was appointed in April 2011, the Department had a significant backlog of cases and many of the cases were being dismissed before they were even investigated. Compounding the problem was that the Department was averaging nearly 400 days to complete an investigation. At the time, comments from the public and attorneys included:

  • You dismissed my case without conducting an investigation.
  • You didn't provide any explanation for the decision. It takes forever to issue a determination.
  • The backlog of cases that is too great to overcome.

Commissioner Lindsey suspended the docket and dismiss program in which cases were dismissed without investigation while simultaneously calling upon MDHR to improve its efficiency in investigating cases. In 2010, MDHR issued 225 investigations which took on average over a year to complete (393 days). By 2012, MDHR issued 578 investigations, which took on average less than a year to complete (311 days). During the first six months of 2013, MDHR closed more cases that were opened. Slowly the backlog is being reduced.

Now, MDHR clients are noticing:

  • I can't believe how quickly the Department resolved my case.
  • I understand why the Department made its decision in my case.
  • Do you think that the Department has the capacity to undertake cases from Housing and Urban Development?

This progress doesn't mean that our work is done. We are however on the right track.