As we reported in April 2020, in Hinrichs-Cady v. Hennepin County (Minn. Ct. App. 2020), the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that pregnant employees requesting “non-leave accommodations” mandated by the 2014 Women’s Economic Security Act (or WESA) were not limited by the definition of “employee” set forth in the Minnesota Parental Leave Act (MPLA). Remember, under the MPLA, the definition of “employee” is limited to those working for at least 12 months (at one-half time) and the definition of “employer” is limited to those with 21 or more employees. Instead, the court held that the MPLA’s restrictive definition of “employee” applied only to “leave-related” accommodations.
Hennepin County appealed the court’s decision and, in June 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. However, as a result of 2021 legislative changes, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed course and has dismissed the appeal.
Legislature Clarifies and Expands WESA Accommodation Obligation
As we reported last week, as part of the 2021 Special Session, the Minnesota Legislature passed an omnibus bill (S.F. No. 9) clarifying and expanding the WESA pregnancy accommodations by moving the legislative text from the MPLA (Minn. Stat. § 181.9414) to a new subdivision under Minnesota’s nursing mothers statute (Minn. Stat. § 181.939). As we noted, the move removes any doubt as to whether the restrictive definition of “employee” under the MPLA applies to a pregnant employee requesting any pregnancy-related accommodation (i.e., “leave-related” or “non-leave related”). It does not.
It should be noted that, as part of the bill, the Legislature added a definition of “employer” to the WESA accommodation statute, which requires that the employer have 15 or more employees. The 15-employee threshold aligns the WESA accommodation obligation with the disability accommodation obligation under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). It should also be noted, though, that the 15-employee threshold does not apply to the nursing mothers portion of the amended statute (Minn. Stat. § 181.939, subd. 1). Thus, the requirement to provide breaks to nursing mothers for the first year following birth of a child appears to apply to all employers.
Remember, the amendments are effective January 1, 2022.
Minnesota Supreme Court Declines Review
Despite initially granting review, the Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that the 2021 legislative amendments “significantly limit the impact of a decision by the court in this case.” As a result, the Court reversed course and decided not to disturb the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision in Hinrichs-Cady.
The 2021 amendments to the nursing mothers statute (Minn. Stat. § 181.939), which now include the WESA pregnancy accommodations, broaden the protections for pregnant and nursing mothers. Both provisions apply to all “employees,” and only the WESA pregnancy accommodations are limited to employers with 15 or more employees.
Although the changes do not go into effect until January 1, 2022, given the Minnesota Supreme Court decided not to disturb the court’s decision in Hinrichs-Cady, employers with 15 or more employees would be well-served to immediately apply the WESA pregnancy accommodations (i.e., “leave-related” or “non-leave related”) to all employees.