The Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) was recently amended to provide a right to a jury trial for claims arising under that law. The MHRA, which prohibits a wide range of conduct in the housing, public accommodation, and education sectors, is most commonly known for prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, status with regarding to public assistance, sexual orientation, and age.
The amendment, which is scheduled to go into effect on August 1, 2014, eliminates any confusion regarding whether an individual asserting claims under the MHRA is entitled to a jury trial. Prior to the amendment, whether an individual was entitled to a jury trial was not clear, and lawyers were left to argue whether such a right existed and whether a judge should defer to a jury verdict on claims arising under that law. The amendment also brings the MHRA in line with its federal counterparts, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which already provide a right to a jury trial.
The impact of the amendment will be substantial in terms of both the cost of litigating claims under the MHRA and the litigation strategy associated with the prosecution or defense of those claims. Specifically, jury trials are generally much more expensive than cases tried to a judge. In addition, whether a case will be tried before a judge or jury will determine how evidence is both prepared and presented at trial. It is important to note that whether a case is tried before a judge or jury can, and often does, impact the settlement value of the case, depending on the unique facts, allegations, and defenses applicable to each matter.