By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 1

In this column:

  • When an Office Romance goes Sour -- What's an Employer to Do?
  • Can a Landlord say, "too many Kids..."
  • Must an Employer Hire a Woman Who is Seven Months Pregnant?
  • A 14-Year-Old wonders About Age Discrimination
  • Is a Supervisor Making "Illegal Use of Hands?"

When an Office Romance goes Sour -- What's an Employer to Do?

I was having a relationship with a coworker, which ended a few months ago. Now that we've broken up, I find it very difficult to work side by side with her. Last week I told my boss about the situation. I explained that the atmosphere was tense and interfering with my work, and asked to be transferred to another department. He said he'd look into it, but the next the day he basically told me it was my problem. This is a large company, and it wouldn't be that difficult for them to accommodate me. What are my rights in this situation?

The Commissioner says:

If you're just uncomfortable around your former girlfriend, that's not your employer's problem. It would be nice if your boss would transfer you, but he has no obligation to -- as long as your coworker isn't sexually harassing you. If your ex is just doing her job and not touching you, staring at you, repeatedly asking to get back together or otherwise giving you unwelcome sexual attention, your employer has no obligation to move either of you. You'll have to get comfortable with the situation, remain uncomfortable, or find a new job.

Can a Landlord say, "too many Kids..."

I finally found an apartment I could afford, a big two-bedroom unit on the upstairs of a duplex. But I'm a single parent with four kids and the landlord says that's too many people in one apartment. Can he refuse to rent to me for that reason?

The Commissioner says:

It isn't illegal for a landlord to have a reasonable limit on the number of people per apartment. What's reasonable? That depends. How large are the bedrooms? A two-bedroom unit rented to five people means at least three of you will share a single bedroom. That might be reasonable in some cases, not in others. Some cities have "density restrictions" on the number of people who can live in a certain size unit, which landlords must follow. The facts of each case are different and determine whether you've been a victim of unlawful discrimination.

A landlord can't use the limitation on the number of people per apartment merely as pretext to discriminate against families with children. If you believe that is what's happening, call the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

Must an Employer Hire a Woman Who is Seven Months Pregnant?

I was seven months pregnant when I applied for a job at an insurance company. I let them know that I'd have to take six weeks of maternity leave once the baby arrived, but that I really wanted the job, and I thought my skills were a perfect fit. The manager who interviewed me agreed that I was well qualified, and said he'd get back to me. A week later I found out that the company hired someone else with a lot less experience. I think I would have had the job if I wasn't pregnant. Isn't this discrimination?

The Commissioner says:

It could be. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because you are pregnant, as long as you can do the job. If you become unable to do the job because of your pregnancy, your employer must treat you the same as any other temporarily disabled employee.

You aren't sure why you weren't hired. But let's suppose that your pregnancy was the reason. If your potential employer had said, "We'd like to hire you, but you're only going to be here for a month or two before you need to take time off," that would be, on its face, discriminatory. Even so, the company might have a legitimate defense. If the company could show it had a "business necessity" to fill the position with someone who would be there continually with no time off for maternity leave, the company could lawfully turn you down. But it would have to be able to prove such a business necessity, and show that it looked for ways to accommodate your pregnancy.

Whether or not you were a victim of discrimination depends on facts we don't have at this point. Call us if you would like to pursue it further.

A 14-Year-Old wonders About Age Discrimination

I'm 14, I just visited your web site, and I think it's a violation of my human rights that the video store I go to won't rent certain movies to people my age. Isn't that age discrimination? Also, how come old people get discounts in restaurants, even on clothes sometimes. Isn't that against the law? (I know restaurants have kids menus at cheaper prices, but who wants to eat that. If old people get a discount on everything, I should too. I'm more broke than they are.)

The Commissioner says:

Visit our web site again. It will tell you that age discrimination is illegal, but only in employment and education -- and not in "public accommodations," which include video stores, restaurants and movie theaters. Take heart: because age doesn't apply in public accommodations, it can cost you less than me to go to a movie theater, or get in to Valley Fair. And your grandparents, enjoying those senior citizen discounts, may have more money in their pockets to spend, perhaps, on you.

Is a Supervisor Making "Illegal Use of Hands?"

I have a supervisor who has a habit of putting his hands on my coworker and I. Sometimes it's a slap on the back, sometimes he'll squeeze your shoulder, or he'll poke you repeatedly in the chest when he's making a point. I don't think it's sexual -- we're all males. It feels more threatening than anything else. We talked to his boss, and she said she'd talk to him, but the behavior hasn't stopped. Can we file a charge under the Human Rights Act?

The Commissioner says:

Your supervisor's behavior may be intimidating, but for his touching to be a violation of the Human Rights Act, it must be both unwelcome and sexual in nature. The fact that you are all males is not the key issue here -- men can, and sometimes do, sexually harass other men, and sexual harassment is illegal regardless of the sex of the victim or perpetrator. But your supervisor's behavior does not appear to be sexual, merely boorish and unprofessional. You can't file a charge of discrimination, but -- if the behavior doesn't stop -- you might want to file a job application somewhere else.

The answers in these columns are not intended as legal advice. The Department of Human Rights does not make a judgment on any case without carefully examining all the facts.

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