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Sexual Harassment and Your Rights

10/19/2017 4:36:52 PM

Recent reports of accusations against a Hollywood movie producer have led women around the world to speak out about the sexual harassment that has been a reality of their lives in the workplace and elsewhere. 

Minnesota was ahead of the nation in recognizing sexual harassment and declaring it illegal. The Legislature added a specific prohibition against “sexual harassment”—and a definition—to the state Human Rights Act in 1982. That was four years before the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the issue and rule unanimously (in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson) that sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Minnesota was also the setting for the nation's first class action lawsuit over sexual harassment in the workplace: Jensen v. Eveleth Taconite Company, on which the book “Class Action” and the film “North County” were based. This famous and drawn-out case began in 1984 with Jensen’s filing of a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, followed by the filing of a class action lawsuit in 1988. Eventually, the 15 women settled with Eveleth for a total of $3.5 million. 

Yet despite being illegal for more than 35 years, sexual harassment continues in workplaces of all kinds in Minnesota and elsewhere, and charges continue to be filed with the Department of Rights over conduct that is as egregious as that alleged in recent headlines.

Here are some facts about sexual harassment that are worth remembering:

  • Although the majority of sexual harassment charges are filed by women, those who experience sexual harassment can be male, female or transgender. The harasser can be of the opposite sex or the same sex.
  • Sexual harassment charges filed with MDHR have led to substantial settlements, including a $50,000 settlement against Jack Link's Beef Jerky in 2015 and a $30,000 settlement against a St. Cloud liquor store owner in 2013.
  • Sexual harassment is illegal in employment, housing, public accommodations, public services, education, credit and business under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
  • If an employer retaliates against an employee who alleges sexual harassment, the employer may be found to have violated the Human Rights Act through retaliation, even if there was not enough evidence to find probable cause for the charge of sexual harassment. 
  • Those who believe they have experienced sexual harassment should contact the Department of Human Rights at 651.539.1100 or Toll Free at 1.800.657.3704, or through or web site at mn.gov/mdhr
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