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Minnesota bill would shield those who report harassment

MINNEAPOLIS - Allegations of sexual harassment against former University of Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague could lead to a change in Minnesota law next year.

MINNEAPOLIS - Allegations of sexual harassment against former University of Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague could lead to a change in Minnesota law next year.
State Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, is working on a bill to give victims more protection if they come forward to report sexual harassment.
“In my time in the Legislature, I can’t tell you how many times whistleblowers have come to my office and said, even though they had these protections, they ended up getting fired,” said Bonoff.
Teague resigned after two university employees accused him of harassing them at a leadership retreat in July. The university is currently investigating several additional harassment claims about Teague.
Bonoff said she’s only just begun work on the bill with legislative staff, and so can’t go into detail about the changes she’ll propose. Her goal, however, is “the kind of whistleblower protections that allow them to come forward without having it hurt their career.”
She wants to change broader state law, not just provisions related to public universities.
Minnesota law currently offers some protections to victims of sexual harassment. Employers, schools and other entities are required to take swift action when they know sexual harassment is occurring, and are barred from retaliating against people for filing harassment charges.
But harassment and pressure on victims of harassment still happen, said Lori Peterson, a Minneapolis attorney who specializes in representing people claiming sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.
“Pretty much every person I represent is afraid of retaliation, and with good reason,” Peterson said.
That’s despite the fact that retaliation or pressure can expose a company to greater consequences in the event of a human rights investigation or lawsuit.
Peterson said some minor tweaks could help, such as reducing the “hoops to jump through” a plaintiff faces in order to avoid having a case thrown out.
She also recommended increased funding for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which investigates claims of sexual harassment, racism and other discrimination. At the end of June, the department had 390 outstanding cases, and was taking an average of 266 days to make a determination. Both those numbers had dropped substantially in recent years.
Bonoff hasn’t yet reached out to other lawmakers to gauge support, but predicted her bill would find bipartisan support. That’s a necessity with the DFL controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House.
Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said he’ll listen to Bonoff’s proposals but believes current law might be sufficient.
“I don’t know if there’s any more laws that are needed, if that’s the answer,” Nornes said.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service

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