Sidebar: In The Department's Mailbox
The program on Crime, Justice and Second Chances included a "mailbag" section, featuring answers to questions submitted to the Department of Human Rights that related to the show topic. Here are the questions and the department's answers.
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Sidebar Transcript: Department's Mailbox
Introductory Comments—Rondah Kinchlow: Every day, the department receives questions via email and through its web site. Some of those questions come with stories. People tell the department how they're struggling with a situation they believe is unjust, and they ask for help. The department can't always get involved. Not every situation, even if unjust, involves a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the law the department enforces. But often the department can help and at least can provide information about what's considered discrimination under the law. Here are a few of those questions and comments the department has received that happen to do with the subject of today's panel. Here's one from an employer.
Question: I've been trying to update our company's applications for employment. In the state of Minnesota, are we legally allowed to ask if a person has ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime? Currently, we only ask for disclosure of crimes within the past seven years, but as our business is changing, we would like to have more information from job applicants upfront.
Answer: Although some states have specific protections for those who have been arrested or convicted of crimes in their anti-discrimination laws, the Minnesota Human Rights Act does not. It does not include having a record of an arrest or conviction as a protected characteristic. So under the Act, an employer is not prohibited from inquiring about a job applicant's prior convictions whether or not they occurred within the past seven years. But if an employer were to consider any arrest or conviction as an absolute bar to employment, such a prohibition could have an adverse impact within certain protected classes, such as race. It is possible that such an absolute prohibition could be found to be in violation of the Human Rights Act protections against discrimination based on race and therefore illegal.
Question: I was turned down when I applied to rent an apartment. I have three felony convictions, but the manager said that wasn't the reason she was refusing to rent to me. She said it was because of my poor credit history and because she couldn't verify my employment. She never asked for a check stub or any other information that could've verified my employment. As far as my credit goes, I don't have any credit. But the manager rented an apartment to my wife, and she has bad credit, and when they couldn't verify her employment, they asked her for a check stub. Is this legal?
Answer: It's not illegal for a landlord to consider an applicant's credit history, employment situation, or previous felony convictions in deciding whether to rent that person an apartment. Now, in this case, the landlord says your credit history and your employment situation were the factors that led to the decision not to accept you as a tenant. You are concerned that someone whose credit and employment situation may have been comparable was treated more favorably. Your concern is understandable. But the landlord's decision in this case could potentially violate the Human Rights Act only if the other applicant was treated more favorably than you because of a characteristic protected under the act. So, for example, if one applicant was held to a different standard in terms of credit history or employment because of that person's race or gender, there could be a violation of the Human Rights Act. But if the landlord took a different view of your credit history because of another reason not covered under the Act, including your previous convictions, there would be no violation.
Question: My single daughter has been told that she has to move out of her apartment with her two children because the police have had to come to her apartment three times in the past year to respond to a domestic abuse situation. The landlord gave her copies of three police reports, all domestic calls, and told her to move out. I thought the state of Minnesota protected tenants and that they could not be punished for calling the police for assistance in domestic abuse situations. Where can my daughter get help before she is homeless?
Answer: The state Human Rights Act protects tenants from being evicted because of their race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, familial status, and other characteristics specifically protected in the Act. But nothing in the act prevents a landlord from deciding that a tenant is undesirable and asking that tenant to move for some other reason, including a history of police calls. It's unfortunate that your daughter has apparently been the victim of domestic abuse, and help is available for those women in that situation from a variety of sources. But your landlord is probably breaking no law by asking your daughter to move. Though your daughter's rights as a tenant would depend in large part on what it says in her lease. She may want to contact a tenant's union to discuss her options further.