By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 12

In this column:

  • Can SPAM Victim File a Discrimination Charge?
  • Boss Gives Favored Female Special Treatment
  • Back Problems lead to Dismissal

Can SPAM Victim File a Discrimination Charge?

I am having a problem with my company posting my name on its web site. Is there a law that covers this situation? Besides the fact that I receive every kind of SPAM mail known to mankind, it bothers me that my name is out there like that to the public. Please advise if there is anything I can do.

The Commissioner says:

We know of no law that prevents a company from placing an employee's name and email address on its web site, and doing so may well serve a company's legitimate business interests. However, if an employee receives "every type of SPAM known to man" as a result, the company may need to take some type of corrective action.

If you are receiving sexually-oriented SPAM as a result of your company's actions, you should make your employer aware that you are being subjected to this material, and that it is unwelcome. Your employer would then have an obligation under the Minnesota Human Rights Act to do something to prevent you from being exposed to this offensive material. That might include SPAM filtering, or it might include other steps. But if your employer does nothing, and the sexually explicit emails are sufficiently frequent and offensive to rise to the level of a hostile environment, then your employer may be violating the Human Rights Act.

Boss Gives Favored Female Special Treatment

My supervisor gives special treatment to one of my female co-workers. He'll "help" her to the point of actually doing what is supposed to be her job, even though he doesn't do his own job very well. Some of my co-workers and I have been talking to the management about this special treatment for over two years now. The management always tells us that they have talked to him many times, and that they don't understand why he keeps acting that way. But nothing seems to change. I finally confronted my supervisor over this special treatment, and now I feel like he is trying to get "back at me." I am emotionally drained and very stressed. Is there something else that I can do? Is my supervisor's behavior illegal?

The Commissioner says:

It's not illegal for a supervisor to "play favorites" and treat some employees better than others as long as the reason for this unequal treatment is not a characteristic specifically protected by the Human Rights Act. In employment, these protected characteristics (sometimes called protected classes) include race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, receipt of public assistance, age, sexual orientation and activity on behalf of a local human rights commission. If you can't get someone at your place of employment to listen to your concerns, unless your female co-worker is getting preferential treatment because of one of these characteristics, your only other option may be to seek employment elsewhere.

Back Problems lead to Dismissal

I was employed for 20-1/2 years as a parts manager in a retail farm implement dealership. Throughout the last 12 or so years I've been plagued by back problems including severe pain and stiffness. But I never missed a day of work because of it, until one day last year, when I experienced severe pain and numbness in my right leg and low back.

I went to see a doctor, filed a workers' comp claim and decided to take a week of vacation time to recouperate. When I returned from vacation, my employer called me into his office and told me that I was fired and must leave the premises within the hour. I handed over my keys, gathered my personal belongings and left -- after 20-1/2 years. I was fired less than two weeks after injuring my back, while a workers' comp claim was in process. Do I have any recourse?

The Commissioner says:

If you were fired because your employer regarded you as disabled because of your back injury -- whether or not your condition was actually severe enough to qualify as a disability -- you may be able to file a charge of disability discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. If you believe that was the reason for your termination, you should contact our Intake unit at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704. The Department of Human Rights has no jurisdiction over workers' compensation issues. To pursue a workers' compensation dispute, you would need to contact the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry or a private attorney to be informed of your rights under the Workers' Compensation Act.

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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