Milestones in Minnesota Employment Discrimination from 1955 to 1993
From the Rights Stuff Newsletter, July 2006
1955: Race, color, creed and national origin protected
Under Gov. Orville Freeman, the legislature passes the Fair Employment Practices Act, outlawing discrimination in employment based on race, color, creed and national origin. To deal with discrimination complaints, the Fair Employment Practices Commission is created with nine members appointed by the Governor. These protections would not exist on a federal level until almost a decade later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would finally prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. (Though the Act only deals with employment, in 1957 the legislature would similarly prohibit discrimination in housing.)
1961: Refinements amid a growing civil rights debate
As freedom riders protest segregation in the south, the legislature passes and Gov. Elmer C. Anderson signs the State Act Against Discrimination, replacing the Fair Employment Practices Commission with a State Commission Against Discrimination. In addition to race, color, creed and national origin, religion is now listed as a protected class in employment. (In 1965, the Act Against Discrimination would be amended to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations as well as in employment and housing.)
1967: It's now the Department of Human Rights
Under Gov. Harold Levander, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is established to succeed the State Commission Against Discrimination. The following year, local human rights commissions would be established throughout the state, and a Commission on the Economic Status of Women would begin to be set up, as the civil rights movement and the women's movement continue to gain momentum.
1969: Sex discrimination is declared illegal in Minnesota
The State Act Against Discrimination is amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in employment.
1973: The Minnesota Human Rights Act broadens protections
The Act Against Discrimination is renamed the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), and the Act's employment provisions are broadened to include protections for marital status, status with regard to public assistance, and disability -- 17 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would prohibit disability discrimination under federal law. (These additional protections are also added in the areas of education and housing, and prohibitions against sex discrimination are extended to housing, public accommodations, public services and education.)
1977: Age discrimination prohibited
The Human Rights Act is amended to prohibit age discrimination in employment, and language is added to the Act that clarifies that discrimination because of pregnancy constitutes sex discrimination.
1982: Sexual harassment defined
Although sexual harassment is already considered a form of sex discrimination and illegal under the Human Rights Act, the Act is amended to provide a specific definition of "sexual harassment" -- nine years before Anita Hill's testimony at Clarence Thomas' Senate confirmation hearing would bring the issue to national attention.
1989: Disability discrimination redefined
The definition of disability had included the degree to which a "major life activity" was "substantially" limited by a person's physical, sensory or mental impairment -- the same definition that would be used by the ADA. But in 1989 the legislature amends the MHRA to change "substantially" to "materially," a different threshold that could theoretically include those who might not be considered disabled under the ADA's higher threshold of "substantially."
1990: Job applicants get more protection
The legislature adds a provision to the MHRA that declares it is not only an unfair practice to "require," but to "request" a person to furnish information that pertains to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, disability or age.
1993: Sexual orientation protected
The legislature adds "sexual orientation" as a protected class in employment, while carving out certain exemptions to its provisions and noting that nothing in the MHRA authorizes marriage between two persons of the same sex, or the promotion of homosexuality as a lifestyle.