United States: Employer's Anti-Discrimination Complaint Process May Toll The Statute Of Limitations Under The Minnesota Human Rights Act

Recently, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, in Peterson v. City of Minneapolis, ruled that a complaint process in an employer's anti-discrimination policy may toll the statute of limitations under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). At issue was a section of the MHRA stating that the Act's one-year statute of limitations is "suspended during the time period a potential charging party and respondent are voluntarily engaged in a dispute resolution process involving a claim of unlawful discrimination under this chapter." Minn. Stat. § 363A.28, subd. 3. The court of appeals held that the phrase "voluntarily engaged in a dispute resolution process" may include the process of investigating an employee's internal complaint of discrimination under an employer's anti-discrimination policy. This ruling, if not overturned on appeal, significantly expands the scope of what most employers would view as a proper tolling of the statute of limitations.

Discrimination Complaint and Lawsuit

Peterson was a Minneapolis police officer who filed a complaint of discrimination with the City of Minneapolis' Human Rights Department in November 2011. The City, however, did not complete an investigation of Peterson's complaint until January 2013, some 14 months later. Peterson then filed a charge of discrimination and, thereafter, a lawsuit alleging discrimination based on the allegations contained in the internal complaint.

At the district court level, the City moved for summary judgment asserting that Peterson's claim was time-barred because he had not filed it within one year of the alleged discriminatory act. In response, Peterson argued that his claim was timely because the statute of limitations was tolled during the time the City was investigating his complaint under its anti-discrimination policy. The district court rejected this argument and granted the City summary judgment on Peterson's claim.

Peterson's Appeal

On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court, holding that an employer's complaint process under an anti-discrimination policy may be considered a "dispute resolution process" in which the employer and the employee were "voluntarily engaged." In reaching this conclusion, the court relied on several cannons of statutory construction involving the language of the statute, and rejected all of the employer's arguments that a complaint process required by the MHRA cannot be a voluntary dispute resolution process.

The court of appeals' analysis in Peterson is strained. Relying on the concept that the MHRA is to be construed broadly, the court adopted what can only be viewed as a vastly overbroad view of "dispute resolution process." Indeed, a prior federal court decision with respect to this statute had ruled that it implied the presence of a third-party mediator.

The court of appeals failed to recognize that employers, like the City, are required to have anti-discrimination policies in place for the purpose of seeking to timely and appropriately investigate discrimination complaints and take action, if required. It is the employer's obligation to determine if its policy was violated and properly discipline any employee at fault—not "resolve" a "dispute" between the employer and its employee. Thus, the employer is not involved in a "dispute resolution process" between it and the employee; it is involved in an investigative process to determine whether the complaint is valid (e.g., "my co-worker discriminated against me") and impose appropriate discipline. This involves the employer as decision-maker, not as a participant in a "dispute resolution process." Indeed, in many instances, employees bring lawsuits asserting that the employer did not properly investigate the complaint or impose appropriate discipline. Claims such as these by employees demonstrate that employers who investigate discrimination complaints are not involved in attempting to resolve a dispute with an employee, but instead are being asked to determine if the complaint is valid and, if so, what discipline is appropriate.

Further, the court failed to consider a competing legal interest—wanting employers to investigate discrimination claims and handle employee complaints in a timely fashion. This interest may be adversely impacted by the court of appeals' decision in Peterson.

Finally, the court failed to consider what obligations a charging party, such as Peterson, has to timely bring a complaint of discrimination or be barred from doing so. Indeed, what likely affected the court's analysis is the fact that the City's investigation of the internal complaint took 14 months—longer than the statute of limitations itself. Nonetheless, there was nothing stopping Peterson from filing a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights despite the pendency of his internal complaint. The court, however, ignored any obligations Peterson had in this instance.

Practical Impact for Employers in Minnesota

Despite the apparent concerns with the analysis adopted by the court of appeals, Minnesota employers are currently required to take the Peterson holding into account. Practically speaking, employers should keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. Assure Timely Processing of Employee Complaints. Based on Peterson, Minnesota employers will now need to ensure that employee complaints are processed as expeditiously as possible, keeping in mind the overarching consideration of assuring proper investigation and analysis of the complaint. This may mean that employers will be required to pay closer attention to the timeframe within which a complaint is being processed.
  2. Modify an Anti-Discrimination Policy to Make Clear That it is Not a Dispute Resolution Process. One option for employers, in addition to timely processing of complaints, is to modify the employer's anti-discrimination policy to make clear that it does not involve a dispute resolution process, but rather a process by which the employee is investigating complaints and enforcing its policy. While this modification has not been approved or indicated by the court of appeals, it may demonstrate in other cases that the policy at issue is not a dispute resolution process governed by the statute.
  3. Be Mindful of Statute of Limitations Issues. Employers may now need to reconsider when the one-year MHRA statute of limitations will expire based on the length of the complaint process. Employers, at least for now, may need to exclude the period of the complaint process when calculating the statute of limitations. Employers would be wise to also formally "end" the complaint process by a written document sent to the complaining employee.

The Minnesota Supreme Court might consider the ruling in Peterson in the future. If and until that occurs, however, employers should take the ruling in Peterson into account going forward.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions