skip to content
Primary navigation

MDHR History

Department of Human Rights History

The timeline below takes you from 1967 when the Department was established, to 2003 when the Human Rights Act was recodified.

150 Years of Human Rights in Minnesota

A 52-minute video produced for Minnesota's Sesquicentennial and introduced at our 25th annual Human Rights Day Conference recalls some of the milestones that have marked the struggle for human rights in our state. Notable Department historical dates are included in the video; you can read about them here. Check your local library for a copy of the DVD, 150 Years of Human Rights in Minnesota.

Department of Human Rights Timeline


The Department of Human Rights was established to succeed the State Commission Against Discrimination. Specific procedures for enforcement of Minnesota State Act Against Discrimination were established, including investigation, conciliation, public hearings, and appeal.


The Minnesota State Act Against Discrimination was amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in employment. A provision to require a charging party to post a security bond was repealed. It is illegal for an employer to maintain an employment system that unreasonably excludes applicants on the basis of a protected class status.


Act renamed Minnesota Human Rights Act (formerly MSAAD, M.S. 363). Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) amended to extend prohibitions on sex discrimination to housing, public accommodations, public service, and education. Discrimination in employment, housing, and education prohibited on the basis of marital status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance. Denial of credit prohibited on the basis of sex (marital status in 1975).


Case production standards established. Management information and some case processing functions computerized. Contract compliance function restructured and procedures revised.


MHRA prohibits discrimination in employment and education on the basis of age, and clarifies that discrimination because of pregnancy constitutes sex discrimination.


A provision enacted by the legislature requires the Department to provide respondents with written statements of the alleged facts in support of the Department's finding of probable cause.


Contract compliance portion of the Act amended. The Department is given responsibility for affirmative action in the construction of the Metrodome.


Comparable worth legislation passed to provide equal pay for dissimilar work of comparable value performed by state employees. The impetus for this legislation was the report issued in 1981 by the Council of the Economic Status of Women.


Certain employers required to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled persons. State and local government agencies required to provide physical and program access to disabled persons. Public transit operators required to make transit services accessible to disabled persons by December, 1986.


It is an unfair discriminatory practice to discriminate in the extension of personal or commercial credit to a person, or in the requirements for obtaining credit, because of sex or marital status.

When filed, a charge must be served within 10 days and the respondent must submit an answer within 20 days.


No department or agency of the state shall receive, enter into, or accept any bid or proposal for a contract nor execute any contract for goods, services, or the performance of any functions, or any agreement to transfer funds for any reason in excess of $50,000 with any person having more than 20 full-time employees in Minnesota at any time during the previous 12 months, unless the person has an affirmative action plan for the employment of minority person, women and the disabled that has been approved by the Commissioner of Human Rights.

If the respondent fails to respond within 30 days after service of the charge, and service was consistent with Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the commissioner, on behalf of the complaining party, may bring an action for default in District Court, pursuant to Rule 55.01 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedures.


In defining "disability," the degree to which a major life activity must be limited by a physical, sensory or mental impairment was changed from "substantially" to "materially."*

In real property, discrimination was expanded to include: a refusal to permit, at the expense of the disabled person, reasonable modifications of the premise to allow the disabled person full enjoyment of the premises.

Public accommodations was amended to include that it is an unfair discriminatory practice for a place of public accommodation not to make reasonable accommodations for the "known" physical disability.

Credit discrimination includes sex and marital status, as well as, race, color, creed, religion, disability, and national origin.

*The Minnesota Supreme Court held that a physical or mental impairment does not constitute a disability unless its severity is such that it results in a substantial limitation of one or more major life activities. See State by Cooper v. Hennepin County, 441 N.W.2d 106 (Minn. 1989). Because of this ruling, the Human Rights Act was amended and the definition of "disability" was changed from "impairment which substantially limits ..." to "impairment which materially limits one or more major life activities." The new language is intended to lower the threshold for establishing disability as a protected status.


The legislature added that it was not only an unfair practice to "require" but to "request" a person to furnish information that pertains to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, disability or age. The legislature also added that it is an unfair practice to engage in an intentional refusal to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate because of a person's race, color, sex, or disability unless alleged refusal or discrimination is because of a legitimate business purpose.


Sexual orientation was added as a protected class in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, public service, educational institutions, credit, and business discrimination. The legislature added that it in no way condoned homosexuality or bisexuality, or an equivalent lifestyle, or authorized persons of the same sex the right to marry.


Marital status was added as a protected class that could not be discriminated against in public accommodations.


No department or agency shall engage in any contract or agreement for goods and services in excess of $100,000 with any business having more than 40 full-time employees on a single working day during the previous 12 months unless the firm or business has an affirmative action plan submitted to the Commissioner of Human Rights for approval.


The Human Rights Act recodified. The Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes recodified Minnesota Statutes Chapter 363, now 363A, in 2003. The purpose of this project was to make the Minnesota Human Rights Act more user friendly by locating related provisions in one place, reducing the need to look in multiple sections for related information.


In the last four years, the Department has investigated more than 2,400 cases. In comparison, the Department investigated 1,080 cases in the prior four years.

The average length of time to complete an investigation was more than 420 days at the end of 2010; the average length of time to complete an investigation has dropped to 266 days as of July 2015.

The total number of cases in the Department’s inventory in the last four years has dropped from 844 cases to 390 cases.  

In the last three years, the number of cases over a year old has been reduced from 228 cases to 12 cases, a 95% reduction.

Workforce Participation Goals

The Department sets workforce participation goals for construction contractors.  In 2012, the Department adjusted the workforce participation goals in the area of construction from 11% to 32% in Hennepin and Ramsey County.  

• As of October 2015, the minority workforce participation rate for the stadium project is 36.92%. 

• The average participation rate for active projects in Hennepin County is 32.99% and in Ramsey County the average participation rate is 23%.

Ban the Box

In 1974, the Criminal Offenders Rehabilitation Act, M.S. 364, was first enacted. It limited the ability of state and local government employers and licensing agencies to refuse employment or certain kinds of licensure to persons on the basis of their criminal history.

Governor Dayton signed the criminal background check bill, which expanded Ban the Box to private employers on January 1, 2014. This requirement has been in effect for public employers  in Minnesota since 2009.

The Commissioner of Human Rights is charged with investigating violations of section 364.021 by a private employer. If the commissioner finds that a violation has occurred then a civil fine may be imposed on the employer.

Women’s Economic Security Act

Minnesota took significant steps in 2014 in the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) to require large state contractors to certify to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) that they pay women and men equally for substantially equivalent work. Between August 2014 and December 2015, MDHR has certified over 700 businesses.

Recent Changes

• Familial status was added a as protected class in the area of employment

    •     The section of the MHRA prohibiting employment discrimination, Minn. Stat. §363A.08, was amended to include “familial status” as a protected class. Familial status             under the MHRA provides protection for a:

    •     Parent, guardian or designee of a parent or guardian that lives with at least one minor; or

    •     Person who is pregnant or is in the process of securing legal custody of a minor

• Pregnancy accommodation protections added to DLI; DLI & MDHR now have overlapping oversight over certain pregnancy accommodation issues

• Equal Pay Certificate required for certain state contractors

Minnesota's Same-Sex Marriage Law

On May 14, 2013 Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriages in Minnesota. Some cities are already accepting applications for marriage licenses in anticipation that couples will wish to get married immediately when the new law goes into effect on August 1st.In 1993, the Minnesota Human Rights Act was amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Minnesota law currently prohibits a business owner from denying goods or services to a person on the basis of sexual orientation.

A business that provides wedding services such as cake decorating, wedding planning or services may not deny its services to a same-sex couple. Individuals denied any of the above services can file a charge with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

If you believe you have been discriminated against based on sexual orientation or another protected class you can contact MDHR's enforcement unit at: 651.539.1100 or online at

back to top