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Marisa Katz & Doug Micko Present Supreme Court Update

On September 8, 2015, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochelpartners Marisa Katz and Doug Micko co-presented a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar focused on important employment law cases from the United States Supreme Court’s 2015 Term. The presentation was made at the request of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association (MN-NELA), a member-based professional organization made up of attorneys who represent workers with employment disputes.

To learn more about how the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions impact employment law and how that may impact you as an employee, or if you have any employment law questions, please do not hesitate to contact Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel today.

Supreme Court Recognizes Constitutional Right to Marriage Equality

Today, the United States Supreme Court agreed that the Constitution granted the liberty “to define and express their identity” by “marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.” The groundbreaking decision, available here, recognized that the personal choice of who to marry is “inherent in the concept of individual autonomy,” a central concept of the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections of life, liberty and property. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, eloquently summed up the matter in his concluding statement:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The Minnesota Human Rights Act has long recognized the right to equal treatment of individuals regardless of their sexual orientation and sexual identity. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on the employee’s sexual orientation, self-image, and identity. In fact, recognizing that discriminators often try to stigmatize people based on sexual orientation and identity, Minnesota law also prohibits discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation and identity. And, if an employee complains about sexual orientation discrimination, Minnesota law protects them from retaliation.

For more information about the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling, or employment law protecting the LGBTQ community, please contact us.

Micko Presents at Upper Midwest Employment Law Institute

Each year Minnesota CLE hosts the Upper Midwest Employment Law Institute (ELI), one of the most respected and well-known employment law seminars in the country. The event is held over two days in St. Paul, Minnesota. This year, Doug Micko presented on the “Basics of Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance Law and Practice.” Micko’s presentation was attended by human resources professionals and colleagues who represent both employees and employers.

Kitzer & Rochel Publish Article in FBA Labor & Employment Magazine

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partners Brian Rochel and Phillip Kitzer co-authored an article in the Spring issue of The Labouring Oar, published by the Federal Bar Association’s (FBA) Labor and Employment Law Section. Phillip and Brian wrote the article along with Frances Baillon, partner at Baillon Thome. The article, titled “Is McDonnell Douglas Too Burdensome? Circuits Question the Utility of the Decades Old Burden-Shifting Model,” analyzes recent court decisions calling into question the usefulness of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting scheme.

Noting the varying approaches in the federal circuits of applying the McDonnell Douglas test to employment claims, at least two judges have advocated for doing away with burden shifting, otherwise called the indirect method, altogether because of the confusion caused by its application.  District Judge Paul Magnuson, sitting on the Eighth Circuit panel by designation, provided a lengthy exposition of McDonnell Douglas in Griffith v. City of Des Moines, 387 F.3d 733 (8th Cir. 2004), calling the direct/indirect evidence distinction a “legal fiction,” and opined that it “should have fallen into disuse after Congress amended the Civil Rights Act in 1991.”  Likewise, Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood provided a well-reasoned critique of the indirect method in Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835 (7th Cir. 2012).  Judge Wood wrote, “Courts manage tort litigation every day without the ins and outs of these methods of proof, and I see no reason why employment discrimination litigation (including cases alleging retaliation) could not be handled in the same straight-forward way.” The article concluded by suggesting the United States Supreme Court may ultimately take the issue to resolve the confusion within the circuits.

Click here to view the full article.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel Defeats Summary Judgment in MHRA Disability Claims

In Oliver v. MCTC, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel attorney Brian Rochel, along with co-counsel Michelle Dye Neumann, successfully argued against the employer’s motion to dismiss Ms. Oliver’s Minnesota Human Rights Act claims. Ms. Oliver suffered a disabling injury at work and alleged that she was terminated because of her disability, and because she requested reasonable accommodation for her disability. The Minnesota District Court denied the motion, ruling that a jury could find in Ms. Oliver’s favor on her claims. The case will now proceed to a jury trial.

The court’s opinion is important because it held that Karst v. F.C. Hayer Co, 447 N.W.2d 180 (Minn. 1989), a case long used by employers to fend off liability for disability discrimination, did not apply to Ms. Oliver’s claims. In doing so, the court narrowed the application of Karst and called into question whether it is still good law.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel Defeats Pretrial Motion to Dismiss, Court Limits Karst Ruling

In Jason Lindner v. Donatelli Bros. of White Bear Lake d/b/a Donatelli’s, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff Lindner’s retaliation claim. In an important opinion of first impression, the court held that Karst v. F.C. Hayer Co, 447 N.W.2d 180 (Minn. 1989), which bars discrimination claims in certain cases, does not apply to retaliation or reprisal claims.  The court noted that “a reprisal claim is fundamentally different [than a disability claim] – such a claim is predicated not on an employer’s injury (or disability), but rather on his or her conduct.” Lindner’s claims will now proceed to trial before a federal jury.

Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel represent Plaintiff Jason Lindner in the employment retaliation and discrimination lawsuit.

Rochel Moderates Panel of Federal Law Clerks

Brian Rochel moderated a panel of federal law clerks discussing practice pointers for employment and labor attorneys. The panel, entitled “Federal Law Clerks’ Tips on Trial and Dispositive Motions,” featured Katherine Bruce, law clerk to the Honorable Donovan W. Frank, Mark Betinsky, law clerk to the Honorable Richard J. Kyle, and Elizabeth Welter, law clerk to the Honorable Patrick J. Schiltz. The panel was part of the Federal Bar Association Labor & Employment Section‘s fall seminar. For more information on the seminar, including the federal law clerk panel, click here.

 

Minnesota Supreme Court Issues Landmark Ruling Ensuring Jury Trials in Retaliation Claims

Phillip Kitzer and co-counsel Michelle Dye Neumann received a favorable decision in a landmark decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court. In Darrel Schmitz v. United States Steel Corporation, Schmitz alleged he was terminated in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.  Schmitz requested a jury trial for his workers’ compensation retaliation claim under the Minnesota Constitution, but his request was denied.  Schmitz appealed the decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing that he was entitled to a jury under the Minnesota Constitution.  The Court of Appeals ruled in Schmitz’s favor, and U.S. Steel appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision, holding that the Minnesota Constitution guaranteed the right to a jury trial for employees claiming that they were terminated for seeking workers’ compensation benefits.

Kitzer & Rochel Defeat Summary Judgment in Federal Court

In Jason Lindner v. Donatelli Bros. of White Bear Lake d/b/a Donatelli’sBrian Rochel and Phillip Kitzer defeated summary judgment in U.S. District Court. Lindner’s claims involved FMLA interference and retaliation as well as for seeking time off from work related to his disability. After 18 years of employment, Jason Lindner was fired while on FMLA leave stemming from a recently-developed respiratory airway disease (RADs).  The person who decided to terminate Lindner, Trish Appleby, testified that she relied on video footage to disprove that Lindner fell in the parking lot, justifying her decision to terminate him for falsifying a workers’ compensation claim.

The Court held that summary judgment was not appropriate because there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Donatelli’s proffered reasons for termination were pretext for retaliation. First, Appleby admitted she was skeptical of the injury even though Lindner’s account of the fall was “pretty much the same” to the account he gave her.  Second, the Court stated that the video was unclear and could reasonably discredit Appleby’s “adamant testimony” that she could “clearly” tell from the tape that he did not fall.  Likewise, Appleby adamantly claimed that Lindner’s doctor’s note did not contain “one objective” indication of injury, yet the doctor’s note did contain indications that Lindner was injured. Third, the Court found that the timing of Appleby’s investigation into the alleged fall could be considered suspicious.  Appleby did not take it upon herself to investigate the injury until after Lindner suffered the RADs injury and requested time off from work.  Fourth, Appleby testified that Lindner’s previous requests for time off constituted “performance problems” that could have led to his termination.  Finally, Appleby did not provide Lindner the same opportunities to remedy alleged behavioral problems that it provided other employees, even those who committed offenses she considered “flagrant.” The Court held, “This evidence of hostility combined with the timing of his termination and the shaky foundation of her professed belief could lead a reasonable jury to discredit Appleby and conclude her decision was in fact motivated by Lindner’s medical leave.”

Likewise, the Court denied Donatelli’s summary judgment motion on Lindner’s FMLA entitlement claim.  Although Donatelli’s argued that Lindner “never” made an FMLA request, the Court found that the argument is “clearly contradicted by the record.” Lindner submitted a complete FMLA request for the day before he was terminated, and Donatelli’s was “clearly on notice of his potential need for FMLA leave because Appleby raised the issue with him and sent him FMLA paperwork, which stated he was eligible for leave[]”. Accordingly, the Court held that Lindner’s FMLA entitlement claim could proceed to jury trial along with his retaliation claim under state and federal law.

The full opinion, issued by U.S. Judge Richard J. Kyle, is available here.

Vildan Teske Testifies at U.S. Senate Hearing on Consumer Rights & Arbitration

Vildan Teske testified in front of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate hearing was entitled “The Federal Arbitration Act and Access to Justice: Will Recent Supreme Court Decisions Undermine the Rights of Consumers, Workers and Small Businesses?”

The hearing was chaired by Senator Al Franken, D-MN, who introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act into the Senate. Vildan testified about the impact of forced arbitration clauses and class action bans in consumer and employment contracts on the ability of consumers, servicemembers, and employees to hold wrongdoers accountable.