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But it could be the most significant update to Minnesota’s sexual harassments laws in years — one that could impact employees and employers in every industry across the state.
A proposal from House Republican Majority Leader Joyce Peppin would add a single new line to the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s definition of sexual harassment: “An intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment does not require the harassing conduct or communication to be severe or pervasive.”That language would nullify in the state a decades-old “severe or pervasive” legal standard used by judges to determine if any sexual harassment case could be actionable — or even heard — in court.
The same clarity should apply to men who steal the feeling of security from women. First if either party is married, the penalty should be more severe.
“We don't know what the courts are going to do,” she said.
But appeals in the courts often end before they even begin, Peppin said.
“Lawyers talked about how they would have potential clients and they would outright tell their clients, ‘Well this isn’t enough, this is not going to even be a case,’” said Peppin, R-Rogers.
But the ruling also established the “severe or pervasive” standard, which required the conduct to be so severe that it affected the conditions of the victim’s employment and created a hostile working environment.
Over the years, a clear definition of that standard never really emerged, and federal judges — particularly in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals — applied it so narrowly that it made it nearly impossible to even get a sexual harassment complaint to the courts, said Sheila Engelmeier, an employment attorney with more than 30 years experience.