In Moore v. City of New Brighton, File No. 62-CV-17-4989 (Minn. Ct. App. July 29, 2019), the Minnesota Court of Appeals, reversed a grant of summary judgment on a Minnesota Whistleblower Act (MWA) case in a manner which clarifies and potentially strengthens this ability for future plaintiffs to establish liability and the right to proceed to trial.
Complaints about Breach of Contract are Protected MWA Reports
In Moore the report at issue involved the filing of a grievance by a Police Sergeant challenging the City’s failure to properly pay overtime in breach of the collective bargaining agreement. This “breach-of-contract allegation” was ruled to be a protected report under the MWA because of the 2103 amendment which added “common law” to the list of areas where a suspected legal violation could constitute a protected report. Therefore, in the future individuals who make internal reports alleging a good faith belief that a breach of contract has occurred will clearly be protected under the MWA.
Adverse Employment Actions Can Include and Extended Paid Leave of Absence
Since the 2013 amendment the MWA has defined “penalize” to include conduct “that might dissuade a reasonable person from making a report.” The Court held that even extended paid leave can, as a matter of law, be considered punitive enough to satisfy this standard, especially when the leave status extends far beyond any reasonable time to investigate any alleged misconduct claim.
The Court also clarified that when a series of adverse actions are alleged (and here there was a poor evaluation and a transfer to a less suitable position), the decision about whether adverse action is satisfied must be evaluated based on the “cumulative effect on the employee”, with these incidents being “considered in aggregate.” This standard should allow a plaintiff with a series of negative actions at work to more readily establish that he or she is being penalized sufficient to satisfy the MWA.
Pretext Can be Satisfied by Presenting Evidence that the Alleged Business Reasons are “Unworthy of Credence”
The Court in Moore reversed the District Court’s holding that pretext could not be established as a matter of law because the evidence of the dubious nature of the City’s alleged business reasons for Moore’s extended leave and the other negative actions was sufficient, in aggregate, to allow a jury to “infer pretext.” The Court’s reasoning emphasizes the importance of credibility in determining pretext. In sum, if the explanations don’t smell right or seem credible, that’s enough to require trial. This analysis should assist future plaintiffs in establishing their right to trial.
Experienced Lawyers Will Know of This Minnesota Whistleblower Development
Experienced legal counsel will understand how to apply the Moore decision to benefit their clients in litigation, and in creating the “leverage” necessary to have productive pre-litigation settlement discussions.
The retaliation lawyers at Schaefer Halleen are available for a free consultation to assist you in determining whether you have a viable retaliation or whistleblower claim, and to effectively prosecute any such claim into litigation, if necessary.