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Minnesota disability discrimination suit can move forward

Many people in Minnesota, despite having a disability, are able to hold down a job to support themselves, with the right help. Unfortunately, many disabled workers still face discrimination in the workplace simply due to the fact that they are disabled.

In what may be a landmark decision, the Minnesota Human Rights Department has deemed that there is probable cause that a large nonprofit organization in the state, Opportunity Partners, violated an employee's civil rights by failing to promote the employee, because the employee has a cognitive disability for which he receives sate-funded job support. This ruling means that the employee's case can proceed.

The employee had submitted an application for a supervisory position at the packaging plant he worked at and which was owned by the nonprofit. However, the employee was notified that his application would not be considered due to the fact that he was classified as a "person served" rather than being classified as an employee.

The employee maintained that this reasoning constituted disability discrimination because every worker at that particular plant was disabled. Moreover, due to being exempt, these individuals did not receive the federal minimum wage, but instead were paid based on their productivity, often for much less than the minimum wage. As of June, over 600 workers at Opportunity Partners were not being paid the federal minimum wage.

According to some legal experts, this ruling is one of the first of its kind. It puts to the forefront the problems with facilities such as Opportunity Partners. While workers at these facilities perform actual job duties and want to be classified as regular employees, instead they are often classified differently, as "persons served." Hiring these individuals as employees could cost the facilities thousands of dollars, so the employer does not have much of a reason to take such steps. This makes these facilities essentially a dead-end job rather than a road towards future employment.

It remains to be seen how this employee's case will turn out, but the fact that it will move forward is a big step. Disability discrimination in any workplace should not be tolerated. If you feel you have been discriminated against in your workplace, you should take the appropriate steps to challenge such discrimination.

Source: Star Tribune, "Minnesota man with disability wins round in fight for job promotion," Chris Serres, July 18, 2016

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