Minnesota business community rallies to protect guys' boners

Is this sexual harssment? Don't ask the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Is this sexual harssment? Don't ask the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Men who simply can't help themselves around women they're attracted to are likely off the hook one more year in Minnesota, making this the... roughly 300,000th consecutive year that guys can think and act with their dicks, consequence-free. 

This reprieve comes via the Minnesota Senate, where legislation to fix the state law on workplace sexual harassment has died this week, as bill author Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point) gave up the fight. The Star Tribune says Housley dropped the effort after hearing from "business leaders, local governments, and education groups." 

Opponents want to save the existing language in state law, which says harassment must be "severe and pervasive" for a victim to even take a case to court. As recently covered in this space, a federal appeals court -- made up entirely of men, nine-tenths of them appointed by Republican presidents -- holds an extremely high and business-friendly standard for what qualifies as sexual harassment.

A Minnesota woman who'd sued the U.S. Department of the Interior alleged that different men in the office had approached and carried on conversations with her, in the office, while sporting visible erections.

A Minnesota judge determined that what these men were accused of might be "vile and inappropriate, but wasn't "actionable harassment." Not under the way the law's written now. The woman appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court.

[In 2016], a three-judge panel threw her case out in a 2-1 decision, observing at one point that “none of [Blomker’s] alleged incidents involved actual touching.” A guy with a hard-on was no big deal.
The ruling cited previous Eighth Circuit findings 20 different times. Among them: a case where a man called a co-worker frequently at home and left romance novels in her office mailbox. One where a man said a woman would “advance professionally” if she got him off. And one where a man called a woman “baby doll” and told her over the phone “she should be in bed with him.” None of these were considered harassment.

This is why many are determined to remove the "severe and pervasive" standard from Minnesota's statute books. Language doing just that was introduced as an amendment to a larger bill in the Minnesota House earlier this week. It passed 121 votes to 4.

Let's all stop to recognize the four brave souls who voted against it -- Reps. Joe Hoppe (Chaska), Jeff Howe (St. Cloud), Josh Heintzemann (Nisswa), and Linda Runbeck (Circle Pines), all Republicans -- and to say a silent prayer for people who work with or for them.

The House passed that bill despite House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin's receipt of a letter signed by "various business groups including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce" and the Minnesota Bankers Association, the Star Tribune reports. 

All those votes on the House side might be rendered moot, thanks to Housley's decision to scuttle her bill. The proposal could resurface on the Senate floor as an amendment, as it did on the House side; that way, senators would at least have to out themselves as opposed.

Housley says she's trying to be "very, very thoughtful," and avoid any "unintended consequences." Perhaps some consequences she's considering involve Karin Housley.

Let's take her at her word, and assume there are a few city governments in Minnesota where guys are worried about lawsuits from co-workers. (Is it so hard to imagine?) The (evidently horny) elephant in the room at the Capitol is the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, always the state's biggest spender on lobbying -- almost $11 million from 2012-17 -- and not a bad group to stay friends with if you're runnning for higher office.

Which Housley is: The second-term senator and Noted Feminist Author of a book about "Chicks" is the presumptive Republican nominee to challenge DFL incumbent Tina Smith... who, not coincidentally, got that job because of a sexual harassment scandal. 

When she accepted Gov. Mark Dayton's appointment, Smith declined to address accusations against Al Franken, but did say: "We are in the middle of a sea change of attitudes about this right now. I think in some ways, this sea change is being led by young women, who tell women of my generation that, maybe some of the things we put up with during our lives, we shouldn't have to put up with."

Business big-wigs and their lawyers disagree. Women of Smith's generation should have put up with that behavior, and the women of the generations that follow should start getting used to it.

"I want to hear everybody out on all sides of it," Housley tells the Star Tribune, "and come up with language that makes sense and that will work and not harm any community."

Well, Karin, one community already has been harmed, is being harmed, and will continue to be harmed. We'll give you a hint: It's not the bankers.