Phillip Kitzer Presents at Eighth Circuit Employment Conference in Des Moines, IA

On April 26, 2024, Phillip Kitzer co-presented at the Eighth Circuit chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association conference in Des Moines, Iowa, along with attorney David Albrecht of Fiedler Law Firm. Their session, titled “Eighth Circuit Case Law Update,” offered a comprehensive review of important court decisions affecting employees at the district, appellate, and Supreme Court levels. Their  presentation helped employment attorneys throughout the Eighth Circuit better understand the key legal changes and how they impact the field of employment law.

Phillip is a regular presenter at state, regional, and national employment conferences. If you have questions about Minnesota employment law and how recent court decisions may affect you, contact us today.

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Major Victory in Sex Discrimination Case, Lowering the Standard for Proving Discrimination

On April 17, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling clarifying that any discriminatory treatment of an employee violates Title VII. The Court ruled in favor of an employee, Sergeant Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow, in her sex discrimination case against the City of St. Louis. Muldrow, who worked as a plainclothes officer in the St. Louis Police Department’s Intelligence Division, was transferred to a uniformed job in the Fifth District against her wishes. She alleged that the transfer was due to her being a woman and that it negatively impacted her employment terms and conditions.

The lower courts had rejected Muldrow’s claim, stating that she needed to show that the transfer caused a “significant” employment disadvantage. However, the Supreme Court rejected this approach, stating that Title VII’s text does not establish such a high bar for proving harm in a discrimination case.

Justice Kagan, who delivered the opinion of the Court, emphasized that while an employee must show some harm from a forced transfer (or other type of employment action) to prevail in a Title VII suit, they need not show that the injury satisfies any sort of significance test. The Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

This decision is a major victory for employees who face discrimination in the workplace, as it clarifies that they do not need to meet an elevated threshold of harm to pursue a Title VII claim. The Supreme Court’s ruling reinforces the importance of protecting workers from discriminatory practices that adversely affect their employment terms and conditions, regardless of the perceived significance of the harm caused.

If you have questions about the Muldrow decision, gender discrimination, or employment law generally, please contact us today.

 

Hennepin County Jury Awards Landmark Verdict of Over $4.6 Million in Whistleblower Case

In January 2024, Brent Bullis, a radiologist and senior shareholder of Consulting Radiologists, Limited (CRL) in Eden Prairie, was granted a historic jury verdict of $4.6 million in a case against his employer for wrongful termination.

Dr. Bullis brought a claim against CRL and Allina Health System for retaliation in violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Dr. Bullis alleged that he was terminated in retaliation for his reports of sex discrimination, billing fraud, patient care violations, and illegal and fraudulent activity to CRL. Dr. Bullis, who had worked with CRL for over 18 years, brought forth these concerns to leadership out of good faith and hope that CRL would change its practices so that he could continue his career at CRL. However, when CRL repeatedly failed to act, he warned that he would have to report his concerns to Allina Health, the parent company of Abbott Northwestern Hospital where Dr. Bullis practiced through CRL. In response, CRL terminated his employment. 

While Bullis’ claims against Allina Health were dismissed in August 2023, his claims against CRL proceeded to trial. After a two-week long trial, the jury ruled in favor of Dr. Bullis and granted him $ 4,587,602 in damages. The damages calculation included actual and compensatory damages, including past and future wage loss and emotional distress.  

This damages award was a significant victory for Dr. Bullis, for employment rights advocates, and for future plaintiffs. A jury award this high shows that the Minnesota community does not tolerate employers who retaliate against their employees for reporting ethical and legal violations and safety concerns. The inclusion of emotional distress damages also recognizes that the effects employees face after discrimination in their workplace extends beyond just the loss of a paycheck. Losing a job often leads to significant effects on a person’s mental and physical health, reputation, and dignity.  

If you have questions about employment law, or feel that your rights may have been violated, contact Kitzer Rochel today.

EEOC Issues Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Regulations

Last December, President Biden signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) into law. The PWFA requires employers to accommodate employees who are affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions so that they can remain healthy while retaining their jobs.

This week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a proposed rule to implement and interpret the PWFA. The rule provides important clarifications on what the PWFA means, and outlines examples of situations where it would apply.

For example, telling your supervisor that you’re having trouble getting to work at your scheduled start time because of morning sickness counts as notifying your employer of your need for a reasonable accommodation under the PWFA.

Other reasonable accommodations include time off for medical appointments related to pregnancy or childbirth, more frequent bathroom breaks, or light duty due to pregnancy related limits on heavy lifting.

If you are experiencing discrimination or retaliation on the basis of your pregnancy or other protected status, contact Kitzer Rochel. Our experienced employment law attorneys would be happy to discuss your case and understand your legal rights and options.

Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel both Present at National NELA Employment Law Conference

The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) held its Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois from June 28 through July 1, 2023. NELA is the largest organization of lawyers who represent workers in the United States and is focused exclusively on advancing employee rights and making the workplace better for all Americans.

The Annual Convention is the largest meeting of NELA members each year. The Annual Convention provides several days of intensive, high-quality continuing legal education (CLE) training for employment lawyers. Both Brian Rochel and Phillip Kitzer  were invited to speak at the Convention—an honor that very few members are given.

Brian presented on a panel entitled “Putting Theory Into Practice: Effectively Litigating Age Discrimination Claims.” The panel provided a detailed discussion and strategies for plaintiff’s advocates to use in representing employees in age discrimination claims.

Phillip presented on a panel entitled “25 Years After Faragher-Ellerth.” The panel provided in-depth updates on the state of employment law as it relates to the the use of the “Faragher-Ellerth” affirmative defense in sexual harassment claims.

Phillip and Brian regularly speak on employment law topics and present around the country. If you have questions about employment law please do not hesitate to contact us.

What Minnesota Employees Need to Know about the Historic 2023 Legislative Session

The 2023 legislative session came to an end last month, but not before lawmakers passed a multitude of bills that brought significant improvements to the rights of employees in Minnesota. From expanded paid leave to additional protections from discrimination to enhanced workplace safety protections, here’s what Minnesota employees need to know about the evolving employment law landscape.

The biggest change might be the implementation of a paid family and medical leave program. Beginning in 2026, workers will have the right to paid leave when they must miss work for medical, caregiving, parental, safety, or deployment reasons. Workers may take up to 12 weeks of leave per year, and they are entitled to their job back when they return from leave. This includes all full and part-time employees, with very limited exceptions for seasonal workers.

Similarly, employees in Minnesota will now earn one hour of time off to care for themselves or their family members under a new sick and safe time program set to begin in 2024. Workers will have to give reasonable notice to take time off, and the absence must be related to physical or mental health, taking care of a family member, closure of work, school, or childcare due to severe weather or an emergency, or seeking safety from domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for using sick or safe time under this program.

Another significant change is the prohibition on non-compete agreements. Any agreement made between an employee and employer on or after July 1, 2023, that seeks to restrict the employee’s ability to work will be void and unenforceable. Employers can still prohibit employees from soliciting their customers or sharing confidential information or trade secrets.

In a similar vein, franchise agreements that prevent workers at one franchise from moving to another are now unenforceable. This change is effective immediately.

Changes also include additional protections against discrimination, such as the CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination based on traits associated with race, such as hair style or texture. The legislature also modified the definition of “gender identity” to ensure that transgender and gender non-conforming people are protected from workplace discrimination.

Additionally, protections for pregnant and nursing employees have been expanded, ensuring that reasonable pregnancy accommodations and lactation breaks must be granted. Nursing mothers are now entitled to three lactation breaks per day without any reduction in pay.

Other changes include prohibiting mandatory meetings related to political or religious matters, and meetings aimed at discouraging union organizing, allowing construction workers to hold contractors liable when subcontractors violate wage theft laws, prohibiting employers from asking about pay history, and adding workplace protections for warehouse and meatpacking employees.

The 2023 legislative session in Minnesota has brought about significant advancements in employee rights. From the implementation of paid family and medical leave to the prohibition of non-compete agreements, along with expanded protections against discrimination and improved workplace safety measures, these changes mark a transformative moment for workers in the state. If you are experiencing discrimination or retaliation in violation of any of the above laws, contact Kitzer Rochel. Our experienced employment law attorneys would be happy to discuss your case and understand your legal rights and options.

Mayor Jacob Frey Praises Kitzer Rochel at Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

On June 6, 2023, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey proclaimed it “Kitzer Rochel Day” in the City of Minneapolis. Mayor Frey praised the law firm’s commitment to fighting discrimination and retaliation in Minneapolis and throughout Minnesota. Mayor Frey made the announcement at Kitzer Rochel, PLLP’s ribbon cutting ceremony, celebrating the law firm’s new office in the Capella Tower in Downtown Minneapolis.

Kitzer Rochel, a boutique employee rights law firm, has been located in downtown Minneapolis since its founding in 2020. The law firm is committed to staying in downtown Minneapolis and helping the City continue its great work recovering in the wake of the pandemic.

For more information about Kitzer Rochel and questions about employment law, contact us today.

Brian Rochel to Present on Multiple CLEs at 2023 Upper Midwest Employment Law Institute (ELI)

Brian Rochel will be presenting on two separate CLE panels at the 2023 Upper Midwest Employment Law Institute (ELI), on May 18-19, 2023, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

First, Brian will be moderating a panel titled, “From Remote Work to Quiet Quitting and Work-Life Balance–Acting on Changing Perceptions and Realities Around Work and Workplaces.” The panel will explore a range of interconnected topics, focusing on the post-COVID workplace and employees’ changing perceptions and expectations.

Second, Brian will participate in a panel focusing on employment remedies and damages available in lawsuits. The panel is titled, “What’s the Harm: Evaluating and Proving Damages.”

The Upper Midwest ELI is one of the largest and most highly regarded employment law events in the country, featuring speakers from across the United States and drawing participants from various states in the midwest.

Brian Rochel Testifies at Minnesota Senate in Favor of Noncompete Ban

On March 15, 2023, the Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill that would ban noncompete agreements in Minnesota. Brian Rochel testified as an expert on the bill, SF 405, explaining how noncompete agreements harm workers and the economy.

The bill passed the Judiciary Committee and is moving quickly through the legislature.

If you have questions about noncompete agreements, including Minnesota and federal laws seeking to stop the problematic spread of noncompete agreements, please contact Kitzer Rochel.

Minnesota & Federal Trade Commission Seek to End Oppressive Noncompete Agreements

On January 19, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed a rule that would broadly ban the use of noncompete clauses by employers with respect to employees, independent contractors, and volunteers. Specifically, the proposed rule would make it illegal for an employer to enter into any noncompete agreement. It would also bar any attempt to enter into a noncompete. It would even bar maintaining a noncompete agreement with a worker. And, under some circumstances, it prohibits employers from telling a worker they are subject to a noncompete agreement.

Employers use noncompete agreements across industries and job levels to limit the movement of employees, including, for example, hairstylists, teachers, and physicians. Often included in the initial employment contract, noncompete clauses typically block employees from working for a competing employer or starting a competing business within a certain geographic area for a specified time period following the termination of employment.

Noncompete agreements have a debilitating effect on employees. Oftentimes, potential employees are forced into signing noncompete agreements in order to obtain employment, with limited, if any, bargaining power on their end of the agreement. Noncompete agreements limit employees’ ability to practice their trade and stagnate competition in the broader economy. Research has shown that noncompete agreements negatively affect competition in labor markets and reduce wages for employees across the labor force, even those not bound by noncompete agreements. In other words, noncompete agreements harm labor market competition by stopping employees from seeking out better job opportunities and preventing employers from hiring the best talent.

By banning noncompete agreements, the FTC estimates an increase in wages by nearly $300 billion per year and expanded career opportunities for nearly 30 million Americans. The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), an organization of lawyers who, like Kitzer Rochel, fight for workers’ rights, supports the rule.

The FTC proposed rule falls within a nationwide trend toward banning noncompete agreements. Minnesota has also introduced a bill banning noncompete agreements, following states such as California and North Dakota.

If you have questions about noncompete agreements—or any of the proposed rules and legislation—please contact Kitzer Rochel today.