In wake of high-profile cases, sexual harassment bill proposed to protect victims

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With two high-profile sexual harassment cases being investigated at Minnesota universities, state legislators are looking at changing state law to offer victims more protections when making a report.

They're looking at the issue after the resignations of University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague and Winona State University's men's basketball coach Mike Leaf, both of whom are being investigated for sexual harassment.

Teague resigned after two female employees claimed he sexually harassed them, and at least four more additional complaints have now been filed.

Leaf resigned after reportedly making unwanted sexual advances toward one of his players.

University officials are investigating both cases. But State Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, tells WCCO she thinks employees who report sexual harassment need more protections.

Bonoff told the Pioneer Press she has spoken to whistle blowers who reported harassment and lost their jobs, despite the fact they're supposed to be protected against retaliation.

Bonoff said it's still early in the process of crafting the bill, but her goal "the kind of whistleblower protections that allow [victims] to come forward without having it hurt their career." The measure would go beyond just protecting employees in public universities, she told the Pioneer Press.

Bonoff talked with WCCO's Esme Murphy Sunday.

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Filing reports

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigates sexual harassment and discrimination charges. It defines sexual harassment as:

"[W]hen someone makes unwelcome sexual advances towards you. And these advances happen often enough to create a hostile environment for you at your job, in school or other protected area where the harassment is happening."

The Department of Human Rights offers resources for employers as well as employees.

Minneapolis attorney Lori Peterson tells the Pioneer Press increased funding for the department would be helpful.

The newspaper reports at the end of June, the department has 390 active cases, and the average determination takes 266 days.

The Star Tribune debunks some myths on workplace sexual harassment, noting, "Sexual harassment in the workplace is an actionable legal offense. Period."

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