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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.

Free Speech in the Workplace?

Many people mistakenly believe that an employee cannot be fired for exercising their rights to free speech. For most employees, that is simply not true.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution generally protects citizens from government retaliation for speech. It provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Private employers, however, are not prohibited by the First Amendment from terminating the employment relationship based on speech. In fact, many employers do terminate employees for engaging in “free speech.” Because nearly every state in the country is an “at-will employment” state, employers are generally entitled to terminate the employment relationship “at will,” or for any reason they wish. While there are exceptions to the “at-will” doctrine (such as race discrimination or firing someone for certain types of whistleblowing), firing an employee for what they say outside of work is usually not illegal.

In the private sector, unions have historically provided the “rights” that many employees believe they have at work. When unions negotiate contracts on behalf of many employees, they usually negotiate that employers are limited in the reasons they can terminate an employee. Likewise, certain high-level employees are often provided employment contracts that restrict the reasons for terminating an employee. But because only around 6% of private-sector employees belong to unions, and very few employees have an employment contract, most employers can legally terminate an employee because of what they say outside of work.

Ask Juli Briskman. Ms. Briskman became famous for a photograph taken of her when she gave the President a one-finger salute as he drove past in his motorcade. Her employer, Akima LLC, terminated Ms. Briskman’s employment for violating the company’s social media policy. Ms. Brisman sued Akima by arguing that a public-policy exception should exist to the at-will employment doctrine. But the Virginia Court dismissed her case for failure to state a legal claim.

Similarly, a white nationalist was fired from his job as a welder and mechanic after appearing in the New York Times at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The company, Limestone & Sones Inc. posted a statement on its Facebook page stating they “would like to take this time to assure our friends and customers that we do not condone the actions of people involved in this horrific display that has taken place in Charlottesville.”

This is not to say that employers can never be held liable for terminating an employee for “free speech.” Many states, including Minnesota, prohibit an employer from terminating an employee for reporting, in good faith, violations of the law to the police. While some employers may feel tempted to retaliate against an employee for speaking with the police about its own policies or practices, such retaliation would likely violate the law. Likewise, an employer who terminates an employee for protesting race discrimination may itself face a lawsuit for race discrimination.

If you have been fired for engaging in “free speech,” and would like to know more about your rights, contact an attorney at Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel today.

Super Lawyers Names Vildan Teske a Top 100 Lawyer and Top 50 Women Lawyer, and Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel Rising Stars

We are excited to announce that, once again, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partners have been named to the annual Super Lawyers and Rising Stars lists. Vildan Teske has been named one of the Top 100 Lawyers and one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Minnesota. This is a very high distinction reserved for the top attorneys under the Super Lawyers rating system–and is especially impressive given that there are more than 25,000 attorneys in Minnesota. 

Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel were both again named to the list of Rising Stars honorees as well. Vildan Teske was named a Super Lawyer in the “Class Action/Mass Torts” category, while Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel were named Rising Stars honorees in the “Employment Litigation: Plaintiff” category.  

Each year, only a select few attorneys are honored as Super Lawyers or Rising Stars. Only 5% of the attorneys in Minnesota are recognized as Super Lawyers, and only 2.5% of attorneys are named as Rising Stars (for attorneys in their first 10 years of practice or under the age of 40). The award is based on a combination of  objective criteria,  peer nominations, and a blue ribbon panel review

For individual profiles and to see Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel’s firm profile, visit the Super Lawyers website. To view the full digital Super Lawyers magazine with the complete list, click here.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel is proud of all of its attorneys, and grateful to the legal community for this recognition.

Phillip Kitzer Presents on Transgender Rights in the Workplace at 8th Circuit NELA’s Biennial Convention

On April 6, 2018, Phillip Kitzer participated on a panel at the 8th Circuit chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association’s (NELA) biennial convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota on transgender rights in the workplace. Along with co-panelists Joni Thome, Ferne Wolf, and moderator Jill Silverstein, the panel discussed trends in the law, litigation strategies, and best practices to identify issues and protect the rights of transgender clients. The Eighth Circuit NELA Conference is a two-day conference designed for attorneys and professionals who represent employees and features presentations by leading plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Eighth Circuit.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel’s attorneys regularly represent employees in employment disputes. If you have questions about employment law, or would like to learn more about your rights in the workplace, contact us today.

All Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel Attorneys Named to Super Lawyers/Rising Stars List; Micko Named One of Minnesota’s Top 100 Lawyers

Once again, all of Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel’s attorneys have been named to the annual  Super Lawyers and Rising Stars lists. Additionally, Doug Micko has been named as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Minnesota, a high distinction reserved for the top attorneys under the Super Lawyers rating system–especially impressive given that there are more than 20,000 attorneys practicing in Minnesota. 

Vildan Teske was named a Super Lawyer honoree and Marisa Katz was named a Rising Star honoree, both in the “Class Action/Mass Torts” category.  Doug Micko was named a Super Lawyer honoree and Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel were named named Rising Stars honorees, all  in the “Employment Litigation: Plaintiff” category.  

 Each year, only a select few attorneys are honored as Super Lawyers or Rising Stars. Only 5% of the attorneys in Minnesota are recognized as Super Lawyers, and only 2.5% of attorneys are named as Rising Stars (for attorneys in their first 10 years of practice or under the age of 40). The award is based on a combination of  objective criteria,  peer nominations, and a blue ribbon panel review

For individual profiles and to see Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel’s firm profile, visit the Super Lawyers website. To view the full digital Super Lawyers magazine with the complete list, click here.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel is proud of all of its attorneys, and grateful to the legal community for this recognition.

Brian Rochel and Phillip Kitzer Present to Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust on ADA, Workers’ Compensation Retaliation, and FMLA Laws

On June 15, 2016, Brian Rochel and Phillip Kitzer presented at the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust’s (MCIT) seminar, Advanced Employment Issues for Public Entities.  The presentation, titled The Intersection of Disability, FMLA and Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Laws, addressed the complications for employers when employees request accommodations related to a disability or work-related injury, or when employees request time off related to a disability, workers’ compensation injury, or FMLA leave.

The MCIT is an entity composed of Minnesota counties and public entities that provides risk management and loss services to its members.  The Advanced Employment Issues for Public Entities seminar was a full day of training for human resources professionals that examined emerging workplace concerns.  Mr. Rochel and Mr. Kitzer primarily represent employees in workplace disputes, but presented to human resources employees multiple examples of mistakes they commonly see made by employers that lead to wrongful termination lawsuits.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel Partners Present at 8th Circuit Employment Law Conference

 On April 14, 2016, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partners Brian Rochel, Phillip Kitzer, and Douglas Micko presented continuing legal education programming at the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) – Eighth Circuit Affiliate conference. Mr. Micko is a member of the Board of NELA’s Eighth Circuit Chapter, and assisted in the planning and preparation of the conference.

NELA’s Eighth Circuit conference is held every two years, and draws employment lawyers from throughout the Upper Midwest. This years’ conference was held in Kansas City, Missouri. Mr. Rochel was invited to speak on a panel that addressed employment law issues unique to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender communities. Mr. Kitzer spoke on the issue of dealing with abusive and harassing litigation tactics. Mr. Micko presented an update to Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit employment law cases.

Phillip Kitzer, Brian Rochel, and Doug Micko Present on Intersection of Disability, FMLA, and Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Laws

On October 26, 2015, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partners Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel presented a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar on the intersection between disability discrimination laws under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) and the American’s With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and Workers’ Compensation retaliation (“WCA”).  The presentation was moderated by Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partner Doug Micko, and addressed the complicated legal considerations faced by both employers and employees when an employee has a workplace injury or disability.  The  presentation was made as part of Minnesota CLE’s Employment Law Webcast Series.

To learn more about the disability discrimination, your rights under the FMLA, or your rights under workers’ compensation retaliation, please contact Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel today.

Brian Rochel Named Author of the Year by FBA L&E Section

Brian Rochel was presented the “Author of the Year Award” by the Labor & Employment Section of the Federal Bar Association’s (FBA) at its annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. The award was given to Brian “in recognition of deep appreciation for outstanding contributions to Section publications.” Brian served as a volunteer editor of the Section’s monthly Circuit Updates, co-authored the Circuit Update for the Eighth Circuit along with Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partner Phillip Kitzer, and also co-authored an article for the Labouring Oar in spring 2015, also in conjunction with Phillip Kitzer. 

Brian was also named the Co-Chair of the Publications and Public Relations Committee of the Labor & Employment Section at the FBA annual meeting as well. Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel congratulates Brian for his hard work and dedication to the labor and employment field. 

BTR FBA

Phillip Kitzer Named “Up & Coming Attorney” by Minnesota Lawyer

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochelpartner Phillip Kitzer was recently recognized by Minnesota Lawyer as an Up & Coming Attorney for 2015, an honor bestowed on a select group of attorneys who have demonstrated outstanding work within the profession and who have fewer than 10 years of experience. This year’s award was limited to 28 attorneys throughout Minnesota, and Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel is proud to have Phillip stand among this outstanding group. 

Click here to learn more about Phillip’s recognition and click here to access the digital edition of this year’s Minnesota Lawyer Up and Coming Attorneys & Unsung Legal Heroes.