Minnesota: “Severe or Pervasive” Harassment and Constructive Discharge Standards Clarified


All Employers with Employees in MN


February 8, 2023



Contact HR On-Call

(888) 378-2456

Quick Look

  • The “severe and pervasive” standard under the Minnesota Human Rights Act for proving a hostile work environment claim is a lower standard than under federal law.
  • Constructive discharge claims can arise from discrimination in the form of disparate treatment.


In Henry v. Independent School District #625, the Minnesota Supreme Court provided important clarifications regarding employment discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). Here, a network technician for the school district received two substandard performance reviews for the first time in her 19 years of employment with the district. These reviews resulted in a performance improvement plan (PIP). A third negative performance review resulted in a written notice that the district was considering terminating her employment. The employee resigned and filed claims for age-related harassment due to a hostile work environment and age discrimination.

Hostile Work Environment. The Court’s existing standard for a hostile work environment was “severe or pervasive” harassment. However, the Court noted this standard was broader under the MHRA rather than federal law because state law had evolved to recognize changes in societal attitudes towards acceptable behavior in the workplace. Nonetheless, the Court found under the broader standard a reasonable juror could not find a severe or pervasive hostile work environment. Although the employee’s manager documented age-related comments and expressed her desire to get rid of her due to her age, there was no evidence the manager acted unprofessionally nor was there any other age-based verbal or physical harassment in the workplace.

Age Discrimination. Under Minnesota state law, constructive discharge can arise either through a hostile work environment or from discrimination in the form of disparate treatment. For this claim, the Court ruled the employee did have enough evidence to show that the district’s actions were intended to force her to quit, or it was reasonably foreseeable that she would quit based on the district’s actions.

Employers should be aware that based on this ruling the standard for a hostile work environment claim is a lower bar under Minnesota law than federal law. Also, both a hostile work environment and discrimination claim are very fact specific. Having updated policies as well as supporting documentation is necessary to defend a claim.


Action Items

  1. Have policies regarding unlawful workplace conduct updated.
  2. Provide regular harassment and discrimination training to employees and managers.
  3. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser. © 2023 ManagEase