Morris Human Rights Commission
The Morris Human Rights Commission is concerned with human rights in our local community. We derive our definitions from the Minnesota Human Rights Act which originated in the Minnesota State Act Against Discrimination several decades ago. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights was established in 1967.
The Minnesota Human Rights Act has established thirteen protected classes of people - groups who may have specific characteristics - who may not be discriminated against. These categories include race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, public assistance, age, sexual orientation, familial status, and local human rights commission activity. For example someone on public assistance who may not be discriminated against for that reason might include someone on Medicaid, using food stamps, on supplemental security income (SSI), using federal Section 8 housing assistance, low income home energy assistance, or participating in the National School Lunch Program's free lunch program.
Some limitations apply. For example not every injury or illness amounts to "disability." Age discrimination applies primarily to employment and education - and if a child under 18 wishes to file a discrimination charge, they must have a parent or a legal guardian do it for them. Familial status - that is, whether someone has children under 18 years old living with them - is protected only with respect to housing. And members of local human rights commissions are protected only against discrimination in employment.
There are several "protected areas" where discrimination is not allowed. These include employment, housing, public accommodations, public service, education, credit, and business. Employment includes where you work, or a job you are applying for. Housing includes renting an apartment or buying a house. Public accommodations include any place generally open to the public, such as grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and day care. Examples of public services include state parks, city buses, libraries, police and fire departments, and city, county, and state departments of health. Educational institutions include any public or private school, college, university, or trade school. Credit refers to organizations that give loans, such as a bank or a credit union. And if you own a business, the law says that other businesses cannot discriminate against you.
The many categories of the Minnesota Human Rights Act remind us of the ways in which discrimination may affect our neighbors and ourselves. The law is complex, has been amended many times, and its parts tell a story of the history of how Minnesotans have interacted with each other over the years. Knowing something about the law helps us educate ourselves about the challenges we may face and the opportunities we have to help ensure human rights protections for everyone. Further information about the Minnesota Human Rights is available online at www.humanrights.state.mn.us.
Stay tuned for next week's article on the topic of bullying.
- Roland Guyotte
Roland Guyotte, a history professor at UMM, is a member of the Morris Human Rights Commission.