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Gerald Laurie, left, and Kelly Jeanetta
Gerald Laurie, left, and Kelly Jeanetta

2020 Attorneys of the Year: Gerald Laurie and Kelly Jeanetta

As societal norms and mores change, legal standards must evolve. With a sexual harassment case they argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court, Gerald Laurie and Kelly A. Jeanetta helped to promote that evolution.

In 2017, Laurie filed Kenneh v. Homeward Bound, a sexual harassment lawsuit under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Laurie had hoped that the case would win on summary judgment. “I am tenacious and was resolved to take the case as far as I could,” Laurie said.

When the District Court granted summary judgment to the defendants, the judge acknowledged feeling handcuffed by previous case law. Federal case law established that for sexual harassment lawsuits to go forward, the conduct alleged must be “severe or pervasive.” That meant that most sexual harassment cases were dismissed without a trial, based on archaic notions of what constituted legally acceptable workplace behavior.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling, so Laurie petitioned for review by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Then Jeanetta joined the case.

Laurie and Jeanetta argued that the language of the Minnesota Human Rights Act does not require a plaintiff to prove that the conduct was severe or pervasive. They also argued that the case met that severe or pervasive standard.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment suits should stand or fall on their own facts without comparing those facts to previously decided cases. “The court made it clear these cases should usually be decided by a jury, not summarily dismissed by a judge,” Jeanetta said.

The decision opened the way for Laurie’s client to proceed to trial, hopefully this year.

“There have been high bars placed around individuals who seek to enforce their human rights,” Laurie said. “It took four years for her to get her day in court.”

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.

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