By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 7

In this column:

  • Are You Entitled to a Truthful Reason for Termination?
  • What to Do When a Teacher Won't Take a Disability Seriously
  • Is it Discrimination When Someone Else Gets Preferential Treatment?

Are You Entitled to a Truthful Reason for Termination?

I was recently laid off from my company that I had been with for 15 years. They informed me both verbally and in writing that the only reason for my termination was the "elimination of my position." My position was Vice President of Sales. One week later they announced in all of the industry publications that someone else had been promoted to the position of Vice President of Sales, yet they told me in writing that this position had been eliminated. Is it legal for a company to eliminate a position and then one week later put someone else in a position that was eliminated? What recourse do I have here?

The Commissioner says:

It's not necessarily illegal for a company to eliminate a position, and a week later hire someone else for the job that was eliminated. What you don't say, and what really matters here, is why your employer replaced you. If your employer didn't like the job you were doing, wanted someone with a different set of skills -- or just plain didn't like you -- you don't have a case under the Human Rights Act. It doesn't matter, in terms of the Act, that your employer may have been less than truthful about the reason you were let go.

But: if your termination had to do with your age, race, sex, or other "protected class" status, your employer may well have violated the Act. If you have a reason to believe that a protected class was involved, I suggest you contact our intake department (651-296-5663) to discuss your situation further.

If your employer didn't violate the Human Rights Act, you may still have other recourse. Another law (Minn. Stat. Sec. 181.933) provides that an employee who has been terminated may request a written reason within 15 days of the termination. The employer then has 10 days to provide the employee with "the truthful reason for the termination." If you made such a request and it can be shown that your employer was untruthful, you may want to contact the Department of Labor and Industry, which enforces this statute. (You can visit their web site at http://www.doli.state.mn.us).

What to Do When a Teacher Won't Take a Disability Seriously

Last fall my son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and is on medication. He has a very real disability when it comes to knowing he has homework, and in getting it turned in when it is complete. He either loses it, forgets to turn it in, turns it in to the wrong class, or turns in a paper that has already been turned in and graded, leaving the new assignment in his backpack. I have been having trouble getting the school to understand that it is a real disability. Most of his teachers think he just has to buckle down. When I had a meeting with all of his teachers to explain the ADD, one of them said "I'm not buying any of this!"

Where can I get information on the school's minimum legal obligations to acknowledge and accommodate his disability?

The Commissioner says:

Once you inform the school that your child has a disability and supply the appropriate documentation, the school district has an obligation to reasonably accommodate your child. This often includes developing an Individual Education Plan (IEP). There is someone in your school district who is in charge of administering IEP plans and familiar with the needs of students like your son. I suggest you ask the school administration for the name of the person who deals with special education students, and contact that person to discuss your son's diagnosis. If the school then refuses to accommodate your son, you should contact us again to discuss filing a charge of discrimination.

The Minnesota Department of Education may also be able to assist you, and you can find them on the web at http://www.education.state.mn.us/mde/index.html. For still more information about the rights of individuals with disabilities and resources to help them, you might contact the Minnesota State Council on Disability. The council can be found on the web at http://www.disability.state.mn.us.

Is it Discrimination When Someone Else Gets Preferential Treatment?

An administrator reassigned my job duties (of 10+ years) to another employee, and I was assigned to a position in another unit in the company. No explanation was given. I have a perfect work record -- I was never disciplined and was always told in my performance reviews that I do a great job. Now I've learned that the employee who has been assigned my old duties is being given opportunities that were never offered to me. That employee is caucasion and I am Hispanic. Is this discrimination?

The Commissioner says:

The situation you describe could involve discrimination, or it might not. When a person who is Hispanic or a member of another "protected class" receives unfair or unequal treatment, the key question is: Did it happen because that person is Hispanic or a member of another protected class? Or did it happen for some other reason, unrelated to their protected class status? We would need more information to determine why you have apparently been treated differently than the nonHipsanic person who replaced you. If you have reason to believe your ethnicity may have been a factor, please contact our intake department at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704. If the situation warrants, we will investigate further.

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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