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Brian Rochel Moderates Panel on Proving Damages at Employment Law Institute

On May 21, 2018, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partner Brian Rochel presented a continuing legal education seminar to his peers at the Upper Midwest Employment Law Institute. The Employment Law Institute, billed as “the Nation’s best employment law conference,” is a program that attracted approximately 1,400 lawyers and employment law professionals. Rochel, together with his co-panelists Anna Prakash, Sheila Engelmeier and Kaarin Nelson Schafer, presented a session entitled “What’s the Harm? – Evaluating and Proving Damages.” The discussion focused on methods of proving damages in trial of employment law claims, as well as presenting damages in settlement and pre-litigation contexts.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel’s attorneys regularly practice employment law on behalf of employees. If you have questions about employment law, or would like to learn more about damages and remedies available to employees, contact us 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.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel Brings Class Action Employment Lawsuit against City of Minneapolis

On January 6, 2017, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel initiated Stewart, et al. v. The City of Minneapolis, a class action employment lawsuit. The suit is brought in Minnesota District Court, Fourth District–Hennepin County.

Laurence Stewart, the named plaintiff, is a former employee of Minneapolis in its Public Works Department. Stewart seeks classwide relief for himself and all other similar employees. The Complaint alleges that the City’s return to work policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) because it fails to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled workers.

Mr. Stewart is represented by Brian Rochel, Marisa Katz and Douglas Micko, of Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel, PLLP. Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel is a class action and employment law firm with decades of experience around the country.

For more information, or if you have been terminated by the City of Minneapolis and have questions about this lawsuit, contact Brian Rochel here or via email at rochel@kitzerrochel.com.

A full press release and copy of the Complaint that has been served are available here:

Press Release

Stewart v. Minneapolis Complaint

Brian Rochel Presents at NELA National Convention in Los Angeles, CA

Brian Rochel presented at the National Employment Lawyer Association’s (NELA) annual convention, held from June 22-25 in Los Angeles, CA. Brian presented as part of a panel entitled, “What I Wish I Knew When I was Starting Out as a Plaintiffs’ Employment Lawyer.” The presentation covered a wide breadth of topics, and was aimed at giving newer attorneys practical advice on how to develop their practices.

Mr. Rochel participated along with co-panelists Elissa J. Hobfoll and Whitney Judkins, and moderator Nina Pirrotti. For more information about NELA and/or the 2016 national convention, click here.

 

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.

Whistleblowers Reveal Widespread Fraud at Large Twin Cities Mental Health Agency

Several whistleblowers have brought to light allegations of widespread fraud by Complementary Support Services (CSS). According to allegations from federal and state prosecutors, the mental healthcare provider defrauded Minnesota’s Medicaid program for millions of dollars and provided inadequate supervision of unlicensed practitioners. The state and federal prosecutors filed suit against CSS in November of 2015.

Several employees have come forward to blow the whistle and publicly report the fraud as well as retaliation and alleged blackmail of CSS employees. According to Naomi Davis, CSS threatened to withhold her paycheck if she did not agree to file false reports. Such claims could give rise to employment retaliation and whistleblower claims.

In addition, a qui tam, or False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit was filed in 2013 against CSS, and both the United States and Minnesota governments have joined the suit. The lawsuit was initially filed under seal, as required by state and federal law, and was recently made public by the Court. The whistleblower lawsuit was filed by William Schwandt as a relator on behalf of both the United States and Minnesota.

These whistleblowers highlight the need for individuals to report government fraud, waste and abuse, and the important role that whistleblower reward laws–or qui tam laws, as they are sometimes called–play in stopping and correcting fraud in our community. There are robust laws that reward individuals who report fraud and even allow such individuals to file lawsuits on behalf of the government in order to recover the improperly-obtained money. In addition, there are many laws that protect employees who act as whistleblowers, preventing them from being retaliated against or fired for reporting or refusing to engage in fraud or other illegal conduct. In addition, some laws allow individuals to file confidential complaints in order to protect them from their employer or others of learning their identity.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel has a proven track record of representing whistleblowers. If you have questions or feel that you may be aware of government fraud, contact us today for a free consultation.

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.

Minnesota Court of Appeals Holds Restrictive Covenant against Employee Not Enforceable

In a potentially significant case, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that a non-solicitation agreement was not enforceable because it did not include specific reference to consideration in exchange for the agreement not to solicit within the agreement. The case, JAB, Inc. v. Naegle, resulted in the employee’s non-solicitation agreement being unenforceable.

Under basic principles of contract law, a contract (including an agreement for a non-compete or non-solicitation) requires consideration. This means that both parties receive something in return–here, the employer received the agreement not to solicit employees after the employee left the company, but the agreement did not provide anything to the employee in return. The important rule from Naegle is that, when a contract that cannot be fully performed within one year (such as a two year non-solicitation agreement), then the contract must include express reference to the consideration within the contract or it is not enforceable.

Click here for a copy of the full Court of Appeals decision. If you have questions about a non-solicitation agreement, a non-compete agreement, or any other employment law questions, please contact Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel today for a free consultation.

 

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.