Back to the Sep-Oct 2020 issue

MN Supreme Court Upholds City’s Sick and Safe Time Ordinance

EMPLOYMENT LAW
Paid sick and safe leave

Woman thinking about sick leaveThe Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sued the City of Minneapolis, claiming that state law conflicts with and impliedly preempts its Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, and that the ordinance exceeds the city’s territorial authority because it regulates employers located outside its boundaries. The ordinance generally requires employers to allow their employees who work at least 80 hours per year in the city to accrue paid sick and safe leave (only for hours they have worked in the city) and to use accrued sick and safe leave (only for hours they are scheduled to work in the city). The district court ruled that state law does not conflict with or preempt the ordinance, but it concluded that the ordinance has an impermissible extraterritorial effect. Therefore, the district court issued an order prohibiting the ordinance’s enforcement against employers located outside the City of Minneapolis.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision in part, and reversed it in part, ruling that state law does not conflict with or preempt the ordinance, and that the ordinance does not have an impermissible extraterritorial effect. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision. The Supreme Court concluded that state law does not preempt the ordinance, reasoning that there is no irreconcilable conflict between the two, and that state law leaves room for municipal regulation. The Supreme Court also held that the ordinance does not have an impermissible extraterritorial effect because its primary purpose and effect is to regulate sick and safe leave for employees who work within the city’s geographic limits. Minnesota Chamber of Commerce v. City of Minneapolis, N.W.2d (Minn. 2020). Note: The League of Minnesota Cities filed an amicus curiae brief in the city’s support.


EMPLOYMENT LAW
Sexual harassment

Assata Kenneh, a former employee for Homeward Bound, Inc. sued the company, claiming that maintenance coordinator Anthony Johnson sexually harassed her by making repeated sexually suggestive comments and gestures to her. She also claimed that Johnson continued the conduct after he was told to stop and had received training on sexual harassment prevention. The district court granted summary judgment (court-ordered judgment without a trial) to Homeward Bound, stressing “the high bar” that Minnesota courts have set for what qualifies as sexual harassment in the workplace, and noting that the alleged conduct, “however objectionable,” did not give rise to employer liability under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and sent the case back to the district court for additional proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed that the “severe-or-pervasive standard” from federal cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is also the governing standard under the MHRA. But the Supreme Court emphasized that this does not mean that Minnesota courts are bound by the previous conclusions drawn by federal or Minnesota courts in applying the severe-or-pervasive framework. Rather, the Supreme Court reasoned, “the standard must evolve to reflect changes in societal attitudes towards what is acceptable behavior in the workplace.”

The Supreme Court instructed that courts and juries “should not carve the work environment into a series of discrete incidents and then measure the harm occurring in each episode,” but should instead, “consider the totality of the circumstances, including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.” The Supreme Court emphasized that this was generally to be a determination made by a jury, and explicitly cautioned courts against taking the place of a jury when evaluating a claim on summary judgment. Kenneh v. Homeward Bound, Inc., N.W.2d (Minn. 2020).


CRIMINAL LAW
Hotel registration records

John Thomas Leonard appealed his check forgery convictions, which were based on evidence that City of Bloomington police officers had seized from his hotel room after they obtained Leonard’s identifying information from hotel registration records. Leonard claimed that the search of the registration records was unconstitutional because it violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from warrantless searches. Hotel operators are required under Minnesota Statutes, section 327.12 to maintain registration records for hotel guests and to make them “open to the inspection of all law enforcement.”

Quote. Leonard claimed that the search of the registration records was unconstitutional because it violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from warrantless searchesThe Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the search of the registration records was constitutional, concluding that a hotel guest has no reasonable expectation of privacy in identifying information that the guest voluntarily reveals to a hotel operator for purposes of renting a hotel room. The Minnesota Supreme Court, in a divided decision, reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. The Supreme Court ruled that, under the Minnesota Constitution, a hotel guest has a reasonable expectation of privacy in sensitive location information found in a hotel guest registry. The Supreme Court also ruled that the government inspection of a hotel guest registry is a search, and that law enforcement officers must have at least a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to search a hotel guest registry. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court for additional proceedings consistent with its conclusion that the evidence found in the hotel room could not be used in the criminal proceeding against Leonard because it was discovered as the result of an unconstitutional search. State v. Leonard, 943 N.W.2d 149 (Minn. 2020).


LAND USE
Annexation by ordinance

In May 2018, the City of Bemidji accepted a property owner’s petition requesting the city to adopt an ordinance annexing his 14-acre parcel of property in Bemidji Township. The statute that authorizes annexation by ordinance (Minnesota Statutes, section 414.033, subdivision 2) provides a streamlined procedure for annexations that meets specific statutory criteria. The city held a public hearing, as the statute requires, and the township’s objection to the proposed annexation was noted.

Quote. The city held a public hearing, as the statute requires, and the township’s objection to the proposed annex­ ation was noted.In June 2018, the city adopted an ordinance that annexed the property. The township filed a lawsuit in district court, claiming that the state Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) should have conducted an evidentiary hearing and should have evaluated policy considerations to determine whether to approve the annexation. The OAH determined that its review of an annexation by ordinance is limited to determining whether the proposed annexation satisfies the statutory requirements. The district court affirmed the OAH’s decision.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision and ruled that the OAH’s review of an annexation by ordinance is limited to determining whether the city has satisfied the conditions and procedural requirements in the statute. The Court of Appeals also noted that it was undisputed that the property at issue here does meet these statutory criteria. In re Annexation of Real Property to City of Bemidji from Bemidji Township, N.W.2d (Minn. Ct. App. 2020).


EMPLOYMENT LAW
Gender and sexual orientation

Quote. The U.S. Supreme Court, by a 6­3 vote, ruled that Title VII’s ban on discrimination based on sex protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees.Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act bans employment discrimination “based on sex.” Courts throughout the United States have reached different conclusions about whether this ban protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees. The United States Supreme Court considered this question in three different lawsuits. Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, and Gerald Bostock, a child welfare services coordinator, filed lawsuits in federal court alleging that they were fired because they were gay, which violated Title VII. In Zarda’s case, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Title VII bars discrimination based on sexual orientation. But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came to the opposite conclusion in Bostock’s case.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the third lawsuit, involving the rights of a transgender employee, Aimee Stephens. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes fired Stephens, a funeral director and embalmer, after she announced that she would begin living as a woman. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Title VII bars discrimination against transgender employees. The U.S. Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, ruled that even if Congress may not have had discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status in mind when it enacted the landmark law over a half century ago, Title VII’s ban on discrimination based on sex protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees. The Supreme Court reasoned that “discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex.” Bostock v. Clayton County, GA, S.Ct. (2020).

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: snaughto@lmc.org or (651) 281-1232.