Can you lose a job because a spouse lost his/hers?

It’s been 22 years since the Minnesota Legislature amended the state’s Human Rights Act to add language to provide protections for married people. But the Minnesota Court of Appeals today reinstated a case that may test it.

The court ruled that a district court should not have tossed the claim of a woman who said she was fired from a company because her husband — the president of the company — was being terminated. LeAnn Taylor claims an official LSI Corporation of America told her that she was being fired because her husband was being terminated and “he will be [relocating], which means you’ll be relocating as well. So we just decided to eliminate your position.”

Is that discrimination against someone for being married?

A test of the Human Rights Act wording will decide. The Act says:

Except when based on a bona fide occupational qualification, it is an unfair employment practice for an employer, because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, membership or activity in a local commission, disability, sexual orientation, or age to:

(1) refuse to hire or to maintain a system of employment which unreasonably excludes a person seeking employment; or

(2) discharge an employee; or

(3) discriminate against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities, or privileges of employment.

At issue is what constitutes “marital status”? A 1988 legislative update extended protection against discrimination on the basis of “the identity, situation, actions, or beliefs of a spouse or former spouse.”

It may well be that the Legislature intended to protect people from losing their jobs because a spouse was losing his/hers. But it’s never been decided by the Appeals Court or the state Supreme Court. Previous cases involving the language were aimed at anti-nepotism rules in which a person didn’t get a job because a spouse did.

The Appeals Court today said the woman’s claim falls “squarely within the statutory definition of marital status,” and sent it back to trial.

  • kennedy

    I could see this being justified in some cases. Corporate confidentiality requires employees to disclose relationships with competitors in order to monitor and maintain privacy. Keeping secrets in a marriage is difficult and potentially unhealthy.