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Legal standard for sexually offensive behavior under debate

| Oct 21, 2019 | Firm News

In Minnesota, the legal standard for sexually offensive behavior has long been that it must be “severe and pervasive” to be subject to litigation. This high standard, according to an advocate of a bill in the Minnesota House, makes it difficult for workers to receive justice in the courts. Rep. Kelly Moyer said the bill is needed to protect workers in their workplaces. 

According to the Minnesota House of Representatives website, HF10, which would not require sexual harassment to be severe and pervasive, was passed in the House by a vote of 113-10. It is now in the Minnesota Senate. Earlier testimony in the House, from a restaurant server who claimed sexual harassment, told of being subjected to unwanted touching and unwelcome suggestive language. The server’s bosses did nothing to step in to stop the behavior of the customers. When the case was brought to court, it was dismissed because it did not meet the legal standard in place. 

The Michigan Human Rights Department, among other charges, is responsible for prohibiting sexual discrimination in the workplace, and for following the Minnesota Human Rights Act. According to a handout issued by the MHRD, employers must address instances of sexual harassment at their companies.  The handout refers to two forms of sexual harassment: quid pro quo, which occurs when (in one example) a favor such as a raise is offered in exchange for a sexual favor; and hostile work environment, which occurs when words or actions of a sexual nature make the work environment unmanageable for an employee. The goal of such standards is to ensure all residents are free of sexual harassment.