Marital Status Discrimination

Marital status discrimination includes any disparate treatment of an employee because of their marital status. Minnesota provides employees among the broadest protections in the country against marital status discrimination. Many states, including Minnesota, prohibit discrimination based on an employee or job applicant’s marital status, including whether they are single, married, divorced, separated, or widowed. However, Minnesota goes further and prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of who they are married to, including the actions or beliefs of the employee’s spouse or former spouse.

What is marital status discrimination?

Marital status discrimination might include failure to hire someone because of their marital status, offering benefits to employees based on marital status, or creating workplace conditions around whether someone is single or married. The Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) prohibits employers from treating an employee adversely due to his or her marital status. For example, if an employee loses his or her job because the employer discovers they are married to a felon, this could be evidence of marital status discrimination. Likewise, unlawful discrimination may occur where an employer offers better hours to employees who are single because they believe singles are more flexible with their time.

Employees in Minnesota are protected against any discrimination based on the “institution of marriage” itself, meaning protection against employer policies that deny employment or benefits based on marital status, i.e. decisions based on whether a person is single, married, remarried, divorced, separated or a surviving spouse. Types of employment discrimination could include the following:

  • Termination
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Refusal to hire or promote
  • Workplace conditions
  • Privileges and benefits
  • Access to facilities
  • Promotions or tenure
  • Compensation of an employee

The MHRA also protects employees against discrimination on the basis of the identity, situation, actions, or beliefs of a spouse or former spouse. This means it is illegal for an employer to make employment decisions based on whom the employee is or was married to, including: 1) the identity of the employee's spouse or former spouse; 2) the situation of the employee's spouse or former spouse; or 3) the actions or beliefs of the employee's spouse or former spouse.

What are some examples of marital status discrimination?

As mentioned, marital status discrimination includes protections against adverse action because of whom the employee is married to. For example, if an employee’s spouse is politically active and the employer does not agree with the spouse’s beliefs, the employer may not terminate the employee simply because it disagrees with the spouse’s opinions.

As another example, if an employee is transferred to another location and the spouse refuses to move, the employer may not fire the employee because of the spouse’s refusal to move. Finally, if both spouses work for the same employer and one spouse quits, it would be marital status discrimination for the employer to terminate the second spouse if it was motivated by the first spouse’s decision to quit.

Is a conflict-of-interest policy legal?

Generally, whether a conflict-of-interest policy, as applied to marital status, is legal depends on the reason for it. For example, an employment policy banning the hiring of spouses of current employees is likely unlawful. Similarly, a policy prohibiting all spouses from working together, even if they would have no interaction with one another, is likely marital status discrimination, particularly where there is no legitimate basis for it.

However, a more narrow policy that serves a business purpose is more likely to be legal. For example, a policy that bars one spouse from reporting to or supervising another is likely meant to ensure fair treatment, productivity and morale among employees and is more likely to pass legal scrutiny.

Contact Our Minnesota Employment Lawyers 
The employment lawyers at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees throughout Minnesota. If you believe you have experienced marital status discrimination or retaliation based on your marital status or because of your spouse or former spouse, we want to hear from you. Contact us for a free initial consultation.