Do You Have a Case?

A Guide to Employment Discrimination: Sex

Why do you believe the discrimination happened because of your Sex?

  1. Do you know someone of a different sex who was treated better than you in the same situation? (For example, if you were disciplined for a certain behavior, were others of a different sex not disciplined, even though they engaged in the same behavior?)
  2. Were you sexually harassed?
  3. Has your employer treated other coworkers of your sex "badly," while treating those not of your sex better in comparable situations? Can you cite specific examples?

NO, none of these sounds like my situation.

YES, at least one of these fits my situation.


What is sexual harassment?

The Minnesota Human Rights Act defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature, when submission to that conduct is made a term or condition of employment, the submission to or rejection of the conduct is used as a factor in an employment decision, or the conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's employment.

Whether unwelcome attention of a sexual nature "substantially interferes" with a person's employment has been considered in hundreds of court decisions. Generally, isolated remarks or occasional profanity or crude language do not rise to the level of sexual harassment even though they are unpleasant. Behavior that is persistent and pervasive may alter the conditions of employment by creating a "hostile environment."

An employee who feels harassed must make the employer aware of the conduct. If the employer takes prompt and effective action to correct the behavior, there may not be any liability for subjecting the employee to sexual harassment.

Are men protected against sexual harassment?

Yes. The Minnesota Human Rights Act protects men as well as women from sexual harassment, whether the harasser is of the opposite or the same gender.

How does the Human Rights Act protect women who are pregnant?

The Minnesota Human Rights Act includes pregnancy in its definition of sex, which means that if a woman is denied a job, a promotion, insurance or other benefits because she is pregnant, her employer may be guilty of sex discrimination.

Employers are also required to treat a pregnancy-related disability the way other temporary disabilities are treated. The Human Rights Act does not require a particular period of disability or maternity leave in connection with pregnancy and childbirth, but affected employees should be treated the same as others. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for job-protected leave in certain circumstances, but this law is separate from the Human Rights Act.

Why are these questions (about the reason for the discrimination) important?

The state Human Rights Act doesn't protect against unfair treatment that happened to a member of a protected class (such as a person of a certain race or sex) — unless that treatment happened because the person was a member of that protected class.

One way to help prove that the treatment happened because you are a member of a protected class is to show that other people who were of a different class (such as a different race or sex) weren't subjected to the same treatment.

But I know what happened and why... can't you take my word for it?

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is a neutral investigative agency. It's our job to impartially investigate charges of discrimination, and determine whether there is "probable cause" to believe that the events a charging party alleges happened — and that they happened because of the charging party's protected class status.

Like any investigative agency, we look for evidence. The more specific information you can give us — including the names of witnesses — the better we can investigate your charge.