Charges for Discrimination and Other Civil Lawsuit Deadlines are Extended in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 2020

On April 22, 2020, Governor Walz signed Executive Order 20-39 (“Order”), which extended deadlines related to the filing of charges of discrimination with the Department of Human Rights (the “Department”). This Order extends deadlines during Minnesota’s current peacetime emergency stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first declared in Executive Order 20-01 on March 13, 2020, and was recently extended in Executive Order 20-35 to May 13, 2020. However, given the current circumstances, it is likely that the peacetime emergency will be extended again beyond May 13, 2020.

Typically, under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, (“MHRA”) a claimant has one year from the date of the alleged unlawful occurrence to file a charge of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation against his or her employer (i.e., if it is a case alleging unlawful termination of employment, a claimant typically has one year to file a charge after the date of his or termination from employment, with some exceptions). However, pursuant to the Order, if this one year deadline would have expired anytime during Minnesota’s peacetime emergency — (currently from March 13, 2020 until May 13, 2020, but subject to extension), the deadline is extended until 60 days from the end of the peacetime emergency, or February 15, 2021, whichever is earlier. For example, if an employee was terminated on May 1, 2019, he or she would typically have until May 1, 2020 to bring a charge (or file a lawsuit, see further below) under the MHRA.  However, under the Governor’s new Order, this employee would now have until 60 days from the end of the peacetime emergency, or February 15, 2021 (whichever date is earlier) to file his or her charge.

The Order also provides the following rules relaxing some of its normal requirements:

  • The Department may accept a charge of discrimination where the party signs a declaration under penalty of perjury, instead of requiring an in-person notary.
  • Charges, determinations, and dismissals may be served electronically, instead of by U.S. or certified mail, if the parties agree to electronic service.
  • A respondent’s time to submit a written response to a charge of discrimination is now 60 days (as opposed to 20 days typically required).
  • A party’s time period to submit an appeal related to a determination to the Department is now 30 days (as opposed to 10 days typically required).

A link to the Order in its full form is available here.

The Order cited the administrative burden the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is currently facing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in light of the closures and/or limited business operations of employers, as well as the need to accommodate individuals and businesses during this time. Governor Walz also notably called out the observation that “Minnesota’s Asian-American community is facing a wave of hostility and increased risks of discrimination as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Employers should, accordingly, exercise caution when making employment decisions to avoid discriminatory treatment of employees in any protected class and ensure any necessary adverse employment actions are properly and well-supported by legitimate business reasons.

This Order is consistent with recent emergency legislation signed by Governor Walz on April 15, 2020 that extended statutory deadlines for civil suits in Minnesota courts during the current peacetime emergency. This emergency legislation suspended all statute of limitations and other statutory deadlines for civil lawsuits set to expire during the current peacetime emergency. Similar to the Order, the statutory deadlines for commencing such civil lawsuits have been extended until 60 days after the end of the peacetime emergency, or February 15, 2021, whichever is earlier. This would include employees’ alternative legal option to file a lawsuit instead of a charge for their MHRA claims within one year from the date of the adverse action. A link to this legislation is attached here.

If you have questions about this Executive Order or your business needs assistance in connection with making difficult employment decisions or responding to a charge of discrimination, please contact Shannon McDonough (shannon.mcdonough@fmjlaw.com), Schaan Barth (schaan.barth@fmjlaw.com), or Natolie Hochhausen (natolie.hochhausen@fmjlaw.com) in FMJ’s HR & Employment group. More information about HR & Employment group is here.