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A brief look at sexual harassment claims under state, federal law

In our previous post, we began looking the topic of wrongful termination and sexual harassment in the context of Taylor Swift’s recent groping claims. As we noted last time, underneath the defamation and assault/battery claims, the Taylor Swift groping incident raises not only the issue of wrongful termination but also that of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is prohibited under both federal and Minnesota law. Whether one is talking about federal or state law, though, sexual harassment is understood to be unwelcome or offensive communications or conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace. There are two common types of sexual harassment cases recognized by the courts: those termed “quid pro quo” sexual harassment; and cases involving a “hostile work environment.” 

Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves situations where submission to communications or conduct of a sexual nature is, either explicitly or implicitly, made to be a condition of obtaining or retaining employment. This form of sexual harassment involves a superior and an employee who is under his or her authority. One important point to note about quid pro quo sexual harassment claims is that the causation standard is different under federal and Minnesota law. Whereas Minnesota law considers it sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of unwelcome conduct or communications is a factor in adverse employment decisions, federal law has a higher burden of proof with regard to causation–it must be shown that the employer would not have taken the adverse employment action unless there was a retaliatory motive.

Hostile work environment claims are characterized by conduct or communications which “substantially interfere” with employment. In other words, the harassment is not made a condition of employment, but it nevertheless interferes with employment. In these cases, the employee’s knowledge of the conduct or communications makes him or her unable to perform work properly, and may prevent the employee from taking appropriate action to report the harassment. Hostile work environment claims are especially important in cases where the employer attempts to justify adverse employment action based on poor performance, which is a common scenario.

In any sexual harassment claim, providing sufficient evidence to meet each element of the claim is not necessarily easy. Working with an experienced attorney helps ensure an employee who has been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace has the best possible representation in these cases.  


U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues, August 25, 2016.

2016 Minnesota Statutes, Section 363A