A new proposal with bipartisan support would change the threshold for sexual harassment in Minnesota workplaces.
The proposed change to the law states that “an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment…does not require the harassing conduct or communication to be severe or pervasive.” This sentence would lower the burden of proof for all employees across Minnesota who believe they have been sexually harassed.
The lowered threshold would be the first of its kind in the nation and would nullify a standard previously set by the U.S. Supreme Court from decades ago that has drawn heavy criticism. The old law states that if an employee feels that their company has failed to address their complaints of sexual harassment, they can seek the advice of a sexual harassment attorney and sue or file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
However, in order for that case to move forward, the law states that there must exist “sufficiently severe or pervasive” harassment. That standard was set in the 1986 case of Meritor Saving Bank v. Vinson, which was the first sexual harassment case to reach the high court. Due to this precedent, opponents of the standard say that some “piggish” behaviors have been allowed to exist because they don’t quite reach this threshold of sexual assault.
The New Standard
Here’s a look at some old cases that did not meet the threshold of “sufficiently severe or pervasive,” but would under the proposed change:
- A 2002 case involving a male supervisor who propositioned a female worker within days of her being hired. He touched her inappropriately, called her a “man-hater,” required her to draw a vulgar image to be considered for promotion and required her to type up the minutes of a “He-Man Women Hater’s Club.”
- A 2010 case where a male repeatedly hit on a female employee, lied to a business associate about having sex with her, and compared women’s breasts and told her that hers were “so-so.” He also put his hand on her leg and at one point grabbed her and kissed her.
- A 2017 case where a male maintenance worker told a female employee to remain seated in her desk while he made repairs because he liked “beautiful women and beautiful legs” and later implied performing oral sex
“I was very shocked at some of these cases,” said House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. Rep. Peppin is the lead sponsor of the proposed legislation, which is supported by House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and a number of lawmakers from both parties.
“It became pretty obvious to me that we really needed to make a change,” Peppin added.
If the proposal becomes law, it would go into effect on August 1.