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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Marital Status Discrimination

The right of spouses to pursue discrimination claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act was clarified last spring by a ruling of the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  For a long time, the law limited such claims unless adverse action was taken against the “institution of marriage” itself, regardless of the identity of the spouses.  This restriction stemmed from a ruling of the Minnesota Supreme Court in Cybyski v. Ind. Sch. Dist. #196, 347 N.W.2d 256 (Minn. 1994), cert. den’d (469 U.S. 1994).  But the Minnesota Court of Appeals put that limitation to rest in Taylor v. LSI Corporation of America, holding that a “marital status” employment claim can be brought under Minn. Stat. §363A.08, subd. 2, for the adverse action taken against an employee because of the identity of the spouse, irrespective of the employer’s intent to target “the institution of marriage itself.”  The court relied upon a post-Cybeski amendment to the status statute extending its protection to “discrimination on the basis of the identity, situation, actions, or beliefs of a spouse or former spouse,” which occurred four years after the Cybeski case.  Under the Taylor ruling, employees who are subject to discipline or other adverse action attributable to the identity or conduct of a spouse (or exspouse) may pursue an actionable claim, subject to satisfying the three-prong standard for bias suits under the statute.  Claimants and their advocates must show a causal connection between the adverse action and the other spouse, while employers defending on such claims should try show that the action was taken for independent reasons unrelated to the person’s spouse.

Marshall H. Tanick

Mansfield, Tanick & Cohen, PA

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