Sex Discrimination in Employment in Minnesota
Minnesota is an “at-will” employment state. That means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all – even a stupid, incorrect, unfair, or unethical reason – provided that it’s not an illegal reason.
But your employer can’t make any decisions about your employment based on your sex, gender, or pregnancy status – that’s sex discrimination and prohibited by both state and federal law. Consider hiring a Minneapolis employment lawyer if you believe you were terminated due to sex discrimination.
What is Sex Discrimination in Employment?
We see gender discrimination in a few different forms. The most common is pay discrimination – for some reason, some employers still don’t pay women equal pay for equal work. Gender discrimination in pay is illegal under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the federal Civil Rights Act, and the federal Equal Pay Act.
The second major form of sex discrimination in employment is pregnancy discrimination. Some employers will try to terminate female employees when they become pregnant or put them on leave when they get physical work restrictions from their doctor for their pregnancy.
Of course, if you believe your employer fired you, demoted you, or reduced your hours just because you’re a woman, that’s a case of sex discrimination too.
Sexual harassment is of course a major form of hostile work environment sex discrimination. Check out our sexual harassment page here.
For a legal consultation with a sex discrimination lawyer serving Minneapolis, call 612-349-2729
How Do I Prove a Sex Discrimination in Employment Claim?
Pay Discrimination and the Equal Pay Act
If you think that you’re being paid less for your work just because you’re a woman, then you’ve got a pay discrimination claim. We prove these by comparing your wages or salary to other male employees in the same position. If you make less for doing the same job, that’s good evidence, especially if you have more experience, better performance reviews, or more education and training. We’ve even had some cases where women have made less than the male workers that they’re supervising.
Now, it can be hard for employees to get this kind of information regarding how much other employees are making. Don’t worry about that – we’ll get that information from the employer in discovery. We ask them to produce all pay documents for you and your co-workers; documents regarding each of your training, education, and experience; documents regarding all employees’ performance reviews; and documents regarding how and why they decided to pay each employee what they did.
Once we get those documents (and if the employer doesn’t willingly hand them over, the Court will after we make a motion to compel discovery), it becomes very difficult for the employer to deny pay discrimination. Your employer will need to come up with some reason why it paid you less than male employees that you were more qualified than and who did the same job as you. Especially if the employer did the same thing to other women, your employer will be very hard pressed to come up with a reason.
Your employer can’t make employment decisions about you just because you become pregnant. Typically what we see happen is that a female employee will get certain pregnancy related work restrictions from her doctor (lifting restrictions, standing, bending, etc.) and give them to her employer. The employer will then refuse to accommodate or honor the restrictions and either terminate the employee or put her on some kind of medical leave.
We prove pregnancy discrimination claims in a similar way to disability discrimination claims. First, we’ll prove that you were qualified to perform the essential functions of your job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions include the main tasks of your position and fundamental responsibilities, but not every marginal task. We’ll establish that either you were capable of continuing to do your job as you always had, even before you were pregnant and got restrictions. Or, we’ll show that you would have been able to continue to do your job if your employer just made some reasonable accommodations, such as: new ways of doing the job; different equipment that can help you; different hours; transfer or reassignment; or getting assistance on certain tasks from coworkers.
We usually have a big gift here from your employer because, oftentimes, they don’t engage in an interactive process with pregnant employees after getting the restrictions. The law requires your employer to sit down with you after getting your restrictions and engage in an interactive process to discuss: the essential functions of your job; whether your restrictions prevent you from performing those functions; and whether reasonable accommodations may allow you to continue performing your job. Many times the employer skips this altogether or, if the employer does it, it does a very perfunctory job and doesn’t engage in the interactive process in good faith. The law allows for a presumption of pregnancy discrimination when the employer fails to engage in the interactive process.
Sometimes, when employers discriminate on the basis of gender or sex, they’ll make up and offer a different, non-discriminatory reason for termination. For example, your employer might claim that it terminated you for poor performance, or say that it underwent “restructuring.” In order to win on a discrimination claim, employment lawyers have to prove that the reason offered by the employer is a pretextual reason that is just being said so that your employer can avoid having to say the actual, illegal reason for termination – gender discrimination.
We’ve got a couple ways to prove pretext on behalf of employees. First, we try to demonstrate that the reason given by the employer is just factually wrong. So, for example, if your employer claims that it terminated you for poor performance, but actually gave you high performance reviews for a number of years and has no written records of ever giving you discipline or counseling, then we’ve created a fact question for a jury regarding whether the reason given by the employer is the real reason for termination, or just pretext to mask sex discrimination.
Second, we can prove that the reason given by the employer isn’t the real reason for termination because it wasn’t equally applied to similarly situated employees. So, if your employer claims that it terminated you for poor performance, but your peers actually had equal or worse performance reviews than you – or documented performance problems that you didn’t have – than we’ve created a fact issue regarding whether the employer’s stated reason for termination is the actual reason, or just pretext to mask sex discrimination.
Minneapolis Sex Discrimination Lawyer Near Me 612-349-2729
Can My Employer Fire Me if I Make a Sex Discrimination Claim?
No. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and the Equal Pay Act all contain anti-retaliation provisions. If your employer terminates you for making a complaint of sex discrimination, pay discrimination, or pregnancy discrimination, then you’ve got a retaliation case in addition to your gender discrimination case.
How Much is My Sex Discrimination Case Worth?
This is absolutely a good question to ask as you make a decision on whether to pursue a case in court or not. Starting an employment case is a big decision and you should know what your potential return is for the investment of your time and energy.
The short answer is that the value of your case depends on a lot of things, like:
- the strength of your case on the merits;
- the amount of damages you’ve suffered;
- whether your employer has the ability to pay a large amount; and
- your tolerance for risk.
We get this question so much that we’ve created a separate, detailed page going through each of these factors, right here.
For employment sex discrimination claims, you may be entitled to back pay and front pay damages, emotional distress compensation, treble damages under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, punitive damages under both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the federal Civil Rights Act, and your attorney fees and costs. The Equal Pay Act also allows for liquidated damages in the amount of your actual damages (that means you get twice what you’re owed in wages).
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What’s an Average Settlement for a Sex Discrimination Case?
That’s a tough question to answer because there’s really no “average” settlement. The value of an employment sex discrimination case depends on the strength of the case; the damages the employee suffered; the ability of the employer to pay a large amount (if the employer is insured, even better); and the employee’s tolerance for risk and willingness to go to trial. Here’s a detailed breakdown of those factors.
But we know that many employees looking for answers right now just want to see some numbers from actual settlements, so here are some numbers.
- We represented a woman, “Elissa,” who worked as a nursing assistant for several years and had great performance reviews. She was excited when she became pregnant. Her doctor gave her some work restrictions, including lifting restrictions of no more than 25 pounds, to give to her employer. Though her job description said that she needed to be able to lift 75 lbs., it wasn’t tied to actual essential functions that she did on a day to day basis. Her employer flatly told her, “We don’t do accommodations.” Her employer didn’t care when she said that she was able to continue doing her job as she always had and terminated her employment – it said she could re-apply after she had her baby. We litigated this case all the way through summary judgment – the employer then settled for $275,000.
Please note that just because this employee received the above result doesn’t mean that’s what your case is worth. This is just an example. Your case value depends on a number of things.
What Should I do if I’ve Been the Victim of Sex Discrimination at Work?
First of all, if you’re searching for answers right now after losing your job, we’re very sorry that you’re in this position. We know how tough it is to lose your job, especially when you’ve got family and other financial obligations. It’s especially frustrating and hurtful when the termination is discriminatory.
Second, make sure that take advantage of state benefits designed to help people going through tough times. Apply for unemployment benefits. And, contact COBRA to make sure you and your family are covered for health insurance.
Third, write everything down that happened to you. Write down the date that you were terminated, who terminated you, what they precisely said was the reason for your termination, and who else was present. Write down whether you think the reason your employer gave you was accurate or not, and why. Write down the names of employees that you think may have useful information. Write down the types of documents or emails that you think may have good information about your case. Write down everything – the reason for this is that your memory will probably fade over time and you want to document things while they’re fresh in your mind. If you pursue a lawsuit, your trial likely won’t be for at least 12 to 18 months, so you want to have something that you can refer to – write everything down.
Fourth, immediately send a letter or email request to your employer requesting your personnel file and the reason for your termination. Under Minnesota law, your employer needs to provide it to you. If your employer hasn’t paid you all of your wages or given you your last paycheck, make sure to request those wages in writing also (by letter or email).
Fifth, call us to talk about your case.
What is the Statute of Limitations for a Sex or Pregnancy Discrimination Case?
You need to move quickly on these. In Minnesota, you’ve got just one year from the date of the wrongful termination or last discriminatory act to bring a lawsuit or file a claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. You’ve only got 300 days from the date of the termination or last discriminatory act to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if you want to bring federal claims under Title VII.
Contact Our Employment and Sex Discrimination Attorneys.
You must act quickly when it comes to employment claims. If you wait, there may be strict statutes of limitation that will bar you from filing any claim at all against your employer. Call Madia today to discuss your case.
First, contact our office and tell us about your situation. You’ll talk with our staff for about 5-10 minutes. They’ll get some basic information about you and your case.
There’s some information that we’ll need when you call. We will want to know who you worked for, what kind of work you did, for how long worked there, how much you earned, if/when you were terminated, the reason given by your employer for any discipline and termination, and why do you think your employer did something unlawful or wrongful. If you have this information handy, it will allow us to proceed more quickly.
We will get back to you shortly – usually within a few hours. If your potential case is a little outside of our wheelhouse, we may refer you to attorneys, agencies, or organizations that we think might be better suited to handle your situation. Our goal is to ensure you get the best and most appropriate help possible for your particular situation. If that’s not us, we’ll try to tell you immediately and point you in the right direction.
If we think that we might be able help you, we’ll set an appointment for you to talk with one of our employment lawyers. We’ll discuss your case, and give you our honest assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, and value. If we then mutually agree that Madia will represent you, we will talk about the process of moving forward with your case.
When you talk with our employment lawyers, please be sure to have all relevant documents that you have in your possession. For example, that could include: pay-stubs, personnel files, employment handbooks/policies, letters from your employer (including your termination letter), any text messages or emails that you think are important, and any other documents that you think might be helpful.