Posts

Minnesota Supreme Court Issues Landmark Disability Discrimination Decision

On February 27, 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a major decision in favor of employees. The case, Daniel v. Minneapolis, addressed whether an employee who is disabled as a result of a work injury can bring a claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). For decades, such employees were prohibited from filing MHRA claims because of a prior supreme court ruling in Karst v. FC Hayer Co., Inc. (issued in 1989). Under Karst, disabled employees were prohibited from bringing human rights claims because they were preempted by Minnesota’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Consequently, any employee who experienced disability discrimination resulting from a work injury was left without any recourse to remedy the discrimination.

This led to absurd results. For example, if an employee suffered a disabling injury outside of work, she would be protected from discrimination under the MHRA. But if that same employee became disabled at work, she would have no protection from discrimination. Her employer would be free to fire her because of her disability and nothing more. This was bad policy for Minnesotans and was out of step with the rest of the country, with nearly every state rejecting similar interpretations of their own state laws.

In Daniel, the Minnesota Supreme Court corrected that problem and overruled the Karst decision. Writing for a 5-2 majority, Justice Margaret Chutich wrote, “Unlike the workers’ compensation act, the human rights act is a civil rights law that protects employees from unlawful employment discrimination.” The Court recognized the fundamental difference between the Workers’ Compensation Act, which is designed to remedy work injuries, and the MHRA, which is designed to protect disabled employees from discrimination. Because of these differences, neither law preempts the other. Instead, workers have rights under both.

Teske, Katz, Kitzer & Rochel lawyers Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel wrote on behalf of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association in a “friend of the court” or amicus brief, asking the Supreme Court to overrule the Karst decision. “This marks a great step forward for all employees in Minnesota and corrects a decades-long error in the law,” said Phillip Kitzer. “Employees should not be treated differently and denied equal protection simply because they become disabled as a result of a work injury. That is not consistent with Minnesota’s strong history of protecting and advancing human rights,” added Brian Rochel.

If you have any questions about Daniel v. Minneapolis, disability discrimination, workers’ compensation retaliation, or employment law generally, please contact Teske, Katz, Kitzer & Rochel today.

Minnesota Supreme Court Affirms Broad Protection for Whistleblowers

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of employees, holding that the Minnesota legislature intended to overrule caselaw that limited Minnesota’s Whistleblower Act (MWA) when it amended the law in 2013. The case, Freidlander v. Edwards Life Sciences, centered around the definition of “good faith.” The MWA protects employees from retaliation if they report illegal conduct in “good faith.” Prior to 2013, the statute provided no definition for the term “good faith.” Beginning in 2002, the Minnesota Supreme Court limited that definition in several cases. The effect of the court’s narrow definition was to limit protections for employees, leaving no legal recourse for many employees were fired for reporting unlawful conduct. These decisions undermined the purpose of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act by making it it much more difficult for employees to report unlawful activity without losing their jobs. Consequently, in 2013, the Minnesota Legislature took action, defining “good faith” as any report that is not knowingly false or in reckless disregard of the truth. By doing so, the Legislature restored the broad protections of the MWA.

Several companies, including Edwards Life Sciences, and the Chamber of Commerce, disagreed with the Legislature’s intent and argued that the judicially-created, narrow definition of “good faith” still applied, even though the legislature changed the law. In a case that affects virtually every employee in Minnesota, the Supreme Court rejected this argument, and held that the legislature intended to change the definition, stating that the employer’s reading would “render the ‘good faith’ definition section of the 2013 amendment superfluous, and run afoul of our presumption that the Legislature intends to change the law when it amends a statute.”

The decision was unanimous, with Chief Justice Gildea authoring the opinion. The decision solidifies the Legislature’s effort to ensure that employees are protected from being fired or retaliated against if they report violations of law, or suspected violations of law, to their employer or to third parties. Employees must make such reports in “good faith,” which means that they are not protected if they lie or make reports in reckless disregard of the truth.

The case was successfully argued by Adam Hansen of Apollo Law, and the plaintiff is represented by Halunen Law and Nichols Kaster. Phillip Kitzer, Douglas Micko and Brian Rochel of Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel also participated on behalf of Minnesota NELA, who appeared as amicus curiae arguing in favor of the broader interpretation.

If you would like to learn more, or if you believe you have experienced retaliation at work, contact Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel today.

Minnesota Supreme Court extends statute of limitations for some claims under Minnesota Human Rights Act

On April 12, 2017, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an opinion in Peterson v. City of Minneapolis, 2017 Minn. LEXIS 195 (Apr. 12, 2017), that may extend the statute of limitations for some employment claims brought under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Scott Peterson was a Minneapolis Police Officer for several years. In 2011, he was transferred to a new police unit, and he complained that the transfer was because of age discrimination. Rather than file a charge of discrimination, Officer Peterson filed a complaint through the City’s internal investigative wing. Over a year later, the City concluded that Officer Peterson had not been discriminated against.

Officer Peterson then sued the City. The City responded by arguing that it was too late to sue—there is a one-year statute of limitations for claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and Peterson was more than a year after his transfer. But, as the Minnesota Supreme Court recognized, that one-year statute of limitations is “tolled” or suspended during the time that the parties are engaged in their own dispute resolution process. So for Officer Peterson, the time that the City was investigating his discrimination claim did not count against his statute of limitations. That meant that even though Officer Peterson sued more  than a year after his transfer, his claim was still timely.

Before seeking a lawyer, many employees will attempt to work out their employment issues directly with their employers. With the Peterson case, it now seems this time may not count toward the statute of limitations for claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. However, because many employment claims have very short statutes of limitations, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible if you have an employment concern or a workplace dispute.

Minnesota Supreme Court Clarifies that Whistleblowers Have 6 Years to File Claim

What is the statute of limitations for a whistleblower claim in Minnesota?  That was the question posed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in  Ford v. Minneapolis Public Schools.  In a unanimous decision, the Court has ruled that whistleblowers have six years to bring a lawsuit against an employer under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (“MWA”).  

In Ford, the employee reported unethical and illegal activity in her department and, shortly thereafter, on April 22, 2008, was notified that her position would be eliminated at the end of the school year.  Her last day of work was June 30, 2008, and she began her lawsuit on June 29, 2010.  The Minneapolis Public Schools sought to dismiss her case by arguing that a two year statute of limitations applies to the MWA and the clock began to tick the moment she learned of her termination.  The Supreme Court agreed that the statute of limitations began to run in April, the moment she learned of her termination, but that a six-year statute of limitations applies to the MWA.  The decision can be found here.

Every law that protects employees has its own statute of limitation, which can range from ten days to six years. Employees must take action within the appropriate statute of limitations or they likely will forfeit any opportunity to do so in the future.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly at work, do not risk a statute of limitations deadline and contact the attorneys at Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochele Micko for a consultation right away.

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.