When a worker in Minnesota experiences sexual harassment or is let go because of their race or other protected class status, generally that person can allege a discrimination claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).  But what if that worker is an independent contractor rather than an employee?  Does the worker still have a claim under Minnesota law?

The MHRA prohibits an employer from engaging in unfair discriminatory practices.  To bring a claim against an employer, a person must be an employee of the company.  Generally independent contractors are not considered employees.  The MHRA does, however, include independent contractors who are commissioned salespersons within its definition of employee.

Are other independent contractors left without a claim under Minnesota law?  Perhaps not.  The MHRA also prohibits “business discrimination.”  The MHRA provides that it is an unfair discriminatory practice for a business “to intentionally refuse to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate in the basic terms, conditions, or performance of the contract because of a person’s race, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, or disability, unless the alleged refusal or discrimination is because of a legitimate business purpose.”  Minn. Stat. § 363A.17.

An independent contractor who has contracted with the discriminatory company through a legal entity, such as a limited liability company, will not be able to bring a claim of business discrimination in their personal capacity.  Instead, as determined by the Minnesota Supreme Court, the claim must be brought by the contracting entity.  See  Krueger v. Zeman Construction Co., 781 N.W.2d 858 (Minn. 2010).

Takeaway:  While independent contractors generally may not be able to bring a discrimination claim against an employer under the MHRA, the contractor may have a claim for business discrimination.  Note that certain protected classes, such as age and religion, do not find protection under this part of the MHRA.