Fewer human rights claims in Minnesota get validated

  • Article by: ALEJANDRA MATOS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2014 - 9:51 AM

Lynn Monley was four months pregnant when she told her boss at a Twin Cities landscape company that she was expecting a baby. She said she was fired two days later.

Monley filed a complaint with the Department of Human Rights against her former employer, AnderSun Lawn Service, in May 2011. A year later, the department ruled there was probable cause to find discrimination.

Monley’s case was one of the 409 that the department closed in the past six months, according to a legislative report filed last week.

The department continues to reduce its case backlog and investigate all discrimination claims, but the department is also less likely to issue favorable outcomes for those who feel they have been wronged.

In 2013, 13 percent of the department’s investigations led to settlements or determinations of probable cause, including Monley’s case. Those determinations are down from 20 percent a year earlier.

Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said that the decrease is mostly a result of office procedures that make the numbers appear lower and that he doesn’t “draw any conclusions from the numbers being different.” For example, eight claims were grouped and counted as one settlement, he said.

Fourteen of the 28 cases with probable cause determinations were filed by employees with disability claims.

The department’s largest settlement in the last six months involved a nurse, Bernice Schwab, who received a $70,000 payout after the department determined her employer, Health Inventures in Maplewood, had failed to accommodate a disability after she fell and injured her shoulder.

Another case involved a woman whose insurance coverage was canceled after the employer found out she filed a claim for age discrimination. The parties settled for $45,000 in compensation and back pay.

But it’s the cases that do not get probable cause determinations or settlements that bother employment attorney Clayton Halunen.

He said he is often required to first file a complaint with the department or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing a lawsuit, only to see a “no probable cause” determination.

He said lawyers are not in the business “to lose money,” so they don’t take unsubstantiated cases.

“These are cases where I know we have merit, and we still get no probable cause,” Halunen said. “I can’t understand how they can come up with those conclusions.”

He said the Legislature needs to evaluate how to fix the system because the state is giving citizens the idea that they will be successful in getting help.

“We have a procedure but, at the end of the day, don’t expect anything,” Halunen said.

Halunen admits that the department is likely receiving many cases with no merit. He said in a month he typically receives 50 calls and will take on only two cases.

Employment attorney John Klassen agrees that “bad claims” are the likely reason for the smaller percentage of probable cause findings.

“I don’t think the drop in numbers is a result of the system not working,” Klassen said.

Monley, of White Bear Lake, said she has not received any compensation because her case is pending in court. The owner of AnderSun Lawn Service, Duane Anderson, declined to comment to Whistleblower.

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