Firm News

Baillon Presents Sexual Harassment Update to Agency Investigators

Apr 01, 2013

On February 6, Frances Baillon, along with Sheila Engelmeier, of Engelmeier & Umanah, addressed agency investigators on sexual harassment updates. The two attorneys spoke on a range of topics, from defining what constitutes sexual harassment to who qualifies as a supervisor and establishing what makes sexual harassment “severe or pervasive.”  They also covered the Minnesota Supreme Court’s recent case law concerning sexual harassment.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) defines sexual harassment as “Unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature…when…

  • Submission to that conduct is made term of obtaining employment;
  • Submission to or rejection of that conduct or communication by an individual is used as a factor in decision affecting individual’s employment;
  • Conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s employment.”

Different standards of liability apply to employers for sexual harassment depending on who is engaging in the harassment.  When a supervisor engages in sexual harassment and takes adverse or tangible employment action against the person they are sexually harassing, the employer is vicariously liable.  Generally, a “supervisor” is one has the ability to take or recommend tangible employment actions including: hiring, firing, setting work schedules, and supervising day-to-day work.  This standard can vary depending on whether you make a claim under state or federal law.

The presenters also discussed two recent cases, LaMonte v. Ind. Sch. Dist. #728 and Rasmussen v. Two Harbors Fish Co.  In LaMonte, a supervisor did not want women on his crew. Due to this attitude, female employees were subjected to demeaning and sexist comments like the “Only place for women is the kitchen and bedroom.” Additionally, the female employees were allegedly held to different standards than the male employees, including being told they could not talk unless on break and that they were not allowed to converse with male employees. 

The court ruled that the conduct did not constitute sexual harassment because, while the conduct was offensive, it was infrequent. Additionally the court judged that it was not severe or intimidating since no comment was severe or intimidating or physically threatening.  The Minnesota Supreme Court will address a similar issue in Rasmussen, where several employees were subjected to numerous assaults, overtly sexual comments, jokes and postings in the workplace perpetrated by the owner of the company.

To learn more about sexual harassment and Baillon Thome’s experience representing sexual harassment claims, visit our page on sexual harassment.  

The Minnesota State Bar Association’s Labor & Employment Law Section puts on a series of Continuing Legal Education free events for investigators, primarily from the EEOC and MDHR. The purpose of these presentations is for litigators to brief investigators on the implications of recent rulings and trends observed.