In a 1980 court case (Continental Can Co. v State of Minnesota), the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed the application of state law in sexual harassment cases. It ruled that 'The prohibition against sex discrimination in the state human rights act includes sexual harassment directed at an employee by fellow employees which impacts a condition of employment when the employer knew or should have known of the conduct alleged to constitute sexual harassment and failed to take timely and appropriate action.'
In response, the Minnesota Council on the Economic Status of Women formed a task force to study the issue and propose a revision of the MHRA. The result of that work and the 1982 Sexual Harassment Task Force Report was legislation introduced by Representative Carolyn Rodriguez, adding sexual harassment as a form of discrimination under the MHRA. Minnesota's law defines sexual harassment broadly as: 'unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature.' In 1982, Minnesota's new law went farther than Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act in that it specified sexual harassment, and not just gender discrimination, as a violation of civil rights. Additionally, Minnesota's law applies to employers with as few as one employee, providing citizens with broader protection and remedies for their claims than is provided by the federal government.
The implications of civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s took on important meaning for women, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, courts struggled with the application of civil rights laws to a variety of interest groups, and state legislatures responded with legislation designed to codify the values embodied in the complicated issue of civil rights. In 1982, Minnesota added sexual harassment as a form of discrimination to the Minnesota Human Rights Law. Shortly thereafter, Minnesota was the setting for the nation's first class action lawsuit relating to workplace sexual harassment, Jensen v Eveleth Taconite Company (on which the film 'North Country' was based). This famous and drawn-out case began in 1984 with Jensen's file of a complaint to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. In the years since 1982, the definition of sexual harassment has been refined numerous times to address different court rulings and affected groups.
Commission on the Economic Status of Women. Sexual Harassment Task Force Report. St. Paul, MN: Council on the Economic Status of Women, 1982.
Winter, Catherine and Stephanie Hemphill. No Place for a Woman. (radio documentary) American Public Media, 2005. This documentary on the Eveleth Mine sexual harassment case was produced as part of the American Radioworks series.