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

Human Rights Act

A recent amendment to the Minnesota Human Rights Act allowing a jury trial at the option of any party may affect how lawyers and their clients evaluate, negotiate, and resolve claims of discrimination and harassment under state law.  Minn. Stat. §363A.33, subd. 6, brings the Human Rights Act into conformity with federal discrimination and harassment laws, which have always allowed jury trials.  Additionally, state law claims heard in federal court, either as diversity-of-citizenship actions or ancillary to pending federal claims, have been entitled to jury trials under the 7th Amendment. Kampa v. Whole Consolidated Industries, Inc., 115 F.3d 585 (8th Cir. 1997).

Minnesota’s new jury trial provision takes effect on August 1 and will likely enhance the value of some discrimination and harassment claims by plaintiffs.  In some instances, defendants may find it advantageous to opt for a jury trial if they feel that the claimant is unlikely to make a favorable impression. The identity of the judge to whom the case is assigned also may be a factor for both sides in assessing whether to seek a jury trial.

The new statutory right leaves some questions unanswered.  One issue could be the scope of damages that may be awarded by juries, such as civil fines allowed under the reinstatement law, and front pay, which is reserved to judges under the various federal discrimination laws.

Marshall H. Tanick

Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC

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