April 23, 2018 09:44 PM
A powerful House Republican is proposing a drastic change to state law that would make it easier to prosecute sexual harassment.
Lawmakers have singled out a phrase in how courts handle sexual harassment cases statewide: "severe and pervasive."
They say that legal standard is far too high and has resulted in clear cases of sexual harassment being dismissed.
GOP House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin unveiled a bill Monday that would make clear that standard no longer applies. She says it would likely result in more sexual harassment complaints being filed and called that a good thing.
"It's almost impossible to actually have an actionable case to bring forward and get your day in court if you are a victim of sexual harassment," House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, told 5 Eyewitness News on Monday.
Peppin says a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling created a standard that sexual harassment has to be "severe and pervasive" for a victim to win a case. Minnesota courts have mostly adopted the same standard. Peppin's bill would direct them to stop using that standard.
"It just removes the language that the courts have been using that says a case of sexual harassment must be severe or pervasive and says the courts don't have to use that standard that's court-created and just needs to use the Minnesota state law that's under the Human Rights Act," Peppin said.
Peppin's bill has bipartisan support, including from DFL Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
"Judges have been interpreting the Minnesota law as though it were the federal law," Hortman says. "In other words, they've been putting forth a standard that's way too high and not what Minnesota lawmakers intended."
In addition to directing state courts to use a different standard in sexual harassment cases, the House is also close to approving a new internal policy. Republican leaders propose a new anonymous phone tip line and e-mail system for making complaints. It won't just be available to House members and staffers, but for the first time would also allow complaints from lobbyists, media members or other visitors to the Capitol.
Complaints would then be investigated by human resources officials in the Minnesota House. Hortman says they should allow outside investigators to look into the cases.
"Members haven't done such a hot job policing themselves," Hortman told 5 Eyewitness News. "That's why we had two resignations and two special elections."
All these moves are part of a concerted effort to address sexual harassment in Minnesota and across the country.
Three Minnesota lawmakers, including former U.S. Sen. Al Franken, were forced to resign after they were accused of repeated sexual harassment.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Updated: April 23, 2018 09:44 PM
Created: April 23, 2018 03:47 PM
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