- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

OWATONNA, Minn. (AP) - A judge in southeastern Minnesota has awarded $3.5 million to a man who said he was fired from the family banking business because he’s gay.

The attorney for Stephen Habberstad, Leslie Lienemann, said it could be one of the largest payouts in Minnesota to a single person for sexual orientation discrimination.

“People can have their own views on sexual orientation. That’s not the issue,” Lienemann said. “The issue is that people have a right to work without that impacting their employment and their ability to earn a living. Discrimination happens even among people who you think are your friends and family who support you. It’s a hard reality for a lot of people.”

Steele County Judge Joseph Bueltel recently ruled Habberstad’s family discriminated against him, retaliated after he filed a lawsuit and breached its fiduciary duty.

“The shareholders and directors involved in the decision to terminate Stephen Habberstad felt that Stephen, as a gay man, was a liability to the Banks,” Bueltel wrote in his ruling.

Relatives maintain Habberstad was fired for business reasons.

“We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Habberstad that you shouldn’t discriminate against anyone because they’re gay or any other reason,” said John Harper III, an attorney representing the family. “And they didn’t.”

Family members own a piece of the Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Blooming Prairie and Citizens State Bank of Hayfield. Their holding company is Country Bankers, The Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/2bbQhBv ) reported.

Bueltel also ruled that Habberstad must repay a loan from the family’s bank as well as another from his sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Terry Boschetti.

The 61-year-old Habberstad said he always knew he was gay, but kept his sexual orientation to himself until he was in his 50s.

“I didn’t realize my sister harbored those kind of feelings,” Habberstad said. “It really fries me. . I’m the same person today that I was 25 years ago.”


Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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