Minnesota Supreme Court expands civil rights protections in 2 additional rulings

In Fletcher Properties, Inc. v. City of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that an anti-discrimination ordinance adopted by Minneapolis does not violate either the equal protection or due process provisions of the Minnesota Constitution. The Minneapolis ordinance, M.C.O. §§ 139.10, et seq., prohibits discrimination by housing providers based on public-assistance status. In other words, property owners, management companies, and others providing housing in Minneapolis can no longer refuse to rent to or otherwise discriminate against someone because that person or that person’s household receives, for example, rental assistance. Consequently, Fletcher Properties lays foundation for challenging an opinion issued by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Edwards v. Hopkins Plaza P’ship, 783 N.W.2d 171 (Minn. Ct. App. 2010). In that case, and contrary to the holding followed in most other jurisdictions, a panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that State law does not prohibit housing discrimination based on whether a person receives rental assistance. Given the robust application of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.01, et seq., in the case discussed below and in prior posts, advocates should ultimately be successful in rectifying the wrong in Edwards.

In Abel v. Abbott Northwestern Hospital, the Minnesota Supreme Court applied the continuing violations doctrine broadly to rule that employment discrimination claims pursued by the plaintiff should be considered timely filed. In addition, and perhaps even more significantly, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Abel that the employment protections under the MHRA apply to unpaid interns. When concluding that the prohibitions against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation under State law now indisputably apply to interns, the Minnesota Supreme Court reasoned as follows: “reliance on common-law agency principles alone is unnecessarily restrictive in light of the liberal construction we must afford the Human Rights Act. While common-law principles impose reasonable constraints on the maintenance of employment discrimination suits, we conclude that Title VII’s hybrid test is the more appropriate approach in this case. Under the hybrid test, the existence of an employment relationship ‘is construed in light of general common-law concepts, taking into account the economic realities of the situation.’”