The doctrine of “aiding and abetting” discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act was clarified recently by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in a case brought by a woman who was fired after complaining about sexual harassment by a coworker. The court held that the majority owner of the company and his father, who undertook the firing, were not liable for “aiding and abetting” under Minn. Stat. §363 A.14 because there was no showing that either knew of the other coworker’s misconduct and gave “substantial assistance or encouragement” to that misbehavior. Matthews v. Eichorn Motors, Inc., 800 N.W.2d 823 (Minn. App. 2011). Aiding-and-abetting claims often are brought as a matter of leverage, and also, as in this case, when the business is defunct and the claim offers the only possibility of recovery for the individuals. But the standard articulated in this case makes it harder for claims to prevail, absent showing some kind of knowledge or affirmative action by management personnel. The passivity of employers can be used as a defense to minimize the liability by showing that management personnel were not aware of the claimed misconduct or, even if they were, did not significantly aid in its perpetuation.
Marshall H. Tanick
Mansfield Tanick & Cohen, PA