By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 10

In this column:

  • A Cafeteria Owner's Proposition
  • Suicidal Thoughts Lead to Dismissal
  • Older Worker Faces Tough Schedule

A Cafeteria Owner's Proposition

I went to lunch today in the cafeteria on the main floor of our downtown office building, where I have become friends with one of the food workers, a young female immigrant from Ecuador. She took her break and ate lunch with me, and as she was doing so, she told me that the owner of the cafeteria has asked her two different times to sleep with him for $300. I asked her if anyone heard him say this and she said no. She said that she was scared and didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to tell her and I wanted to ask and see what her options are as a young legal immigrant in this community. The owner of the cafeteria has also recently dropped her wages. He said that he did so because he needs to save money. This does not sound right. Do you have any advice? Who should she tell about the harassment?

The Commissioner says:

Your friend should telephone our office immediately at 651-296-5663, and ask for an intake officer. Her employer's behavior, as you describe it, is sexual harassment, which is illegal under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). An intake officer can assist your friend in evaluating her options, which include filing a charge with our department under the MHRA. If your friend does not speak English or does not speak it well, she can talk with a Spanish-speaking member of our staff.

You mentioned there are no witnesses, and these situations sometimes come down to one person's word vs. another's. However, most bosses who sexually harass others do it more than once; there may well be other women who this cafeteria owner has harassed previously, or is harassing now. If your friend can find out if other current or former restaurant workers have been propositioned or otherwise subjected to unwanted sexual attention, that would help her case. She should also start keeping records of each incident, including the date and time. It's important, too, that she make it clear to her boss that his invitation to sleep with him for money, and any other conduct of a sexual nature, is unwelcome.

Although you mentioned the fact that your friend is a legal immigrant, it makes no difference, for our purposes, whether she is a U.S. citizen or not. Sexual harassment is against the law, and everyone in Minnesota is protected from this predatory behavior, regardless of their citizenship status.

Suicidal Thoughts Lead to Dismissal

One of my colleagues was recently fired after his supervisor learned that he was struggling with suicidal thoughts. To my knowledge, none of his emotional problems influenced his job performance. Additionally, he was seeking help in dealing with his suicidal thoughts and depression. Is this a wrongful termination? If so, what law does this situation fall under and is there anything I can do about it if my co-worker does not wish to file a lawsuit?

The Commissioner says:

We obviously don't have all the facts, but it may be that your colleague was terminated in violation of the state Human Rights Act. The Act provides protection against discrimination in employment for an individual who has a disability, has a history of having a disability, or is regarded as disabled. If knowledge of your colleague's suicidal thoughts led your employer to regard him as disabled, the employer would have had a duty to enter into an interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation was needed.

It is your coworker, however, who would need to come forward and contact our department to discuss filing a charge. (The only person who can file a charge is the aggrieved person, or the legal representative of the aggrieved person.) So you may wish to advise your coworker to contact our intake department. He can take some time to think things over; the Act provides that a charge may be filed up to one year after the discriminatory act took place. Still, it's a good idea to consider filing as soon as possible, so that a case can be investigated while memories are fresh and witnesses are more likely to be available.

Older Worker Faces Tough Schedule

Can I be forced to work nine days straight without a day off while younger employees only have to work 4 and 5 days?

The Commissioner says:

You cannot be treated adversely by your employer because of your age. If you are being required to work a less favorable schedule than younger employees, and your age is the reason, your employer may be violating the Human Rights Act. Note, however, that the fact that you are older and working a tougher schedule does not necessarily mean your employer is violating the law; there may be one or more other reasons why you aren't getting enough days off. But if you believe your age is a factor, you should contact our intake department to discuss filing a charge.

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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