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Minnesota Supreme Court Sides with Minnesota Department of Human Rights

Court confirms state’s civil rights law contains robust protections for paid and unpaid workers. Also confirms harassment occurring outside of reporting period can be taken into account in a hostile work environment claim

7/29/2020 3:13:02 PM

[St. Paul, MN] The Minnesota Supreme Court today sided with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, represented by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, in the high-stakes employment discrimination case, Meagan Abel v. Abbott Northwestern Hospital and St. Mary’s University Minnesota.
The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the Department that compensation is not required for an individual to be considered an employee under the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s employment protections.
“For the first time in Minnesota history, the highest court in the state ruled Minnesota's civil rights law protects unpaid interns,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero. “The Court correctly recognized that all Minnesota workers, including interns, are entitled to the protections of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.”
Significantly, the Minnesota Supreme Court also sided with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights by ruling that harassment, contributing to a hostile work environment and occurring outside the one-year statute of limitations, should be taken into account when determining if the state’s civil rights law was violated.
During the course of her unpaid practicum at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Abel’s supervisor reportedly referred to Abel as “the brown one” and told students that he is “good in bed” during highly sexualized role-playing. 
“Living a life free of sexual and racial harassment is every Minnesotan’s civil right,” continued Commissioner Lucero. “Abel’s civil rights were denied when she faced sexual and racial harassment. Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed that her voice and experience matters.” 
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is the state's civil rights enforcement agency. If you have experienced or witnessed an incident of discrimination or bias call the Discrimination Helpline at 1-833-454-0148 or submit this online form.
  • /mdhr/assets/Minnesota%20Supreme%20Court%20Meagan%20Abel%20v.%20Abbott%20Northwestern%20Hospital%20and%20St.%20Mary%E2%80%99s%20University%20Minnesota_tcm1061-442011.pdfMinnesota Supreme Court Opinion in/mdhr/assets/Minnesota%20Supreme%20Court%20Meagan%20Abel%20v.%20Abbott%20Northwestern%20Hospital%20and%20St.%20Mary%E2%80%99s%20University%20Minnesota_tcm1061-442011.pdf Meagan Abel v. Abbott Northwestern Hospital and St. Mary’s University Minnesota
The press release was updated on August 1, 2020.


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