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It’s good faith that matters: Minnesota whistle-blowers don’t have to be right

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Under Minnesota’s Whistle­­blower Act, employees who report alleged employer wrongdoing to their employer or the government are protected from retaliation.

Those employees don’t have to be right about their allegations—they just have to act in good faith. If their allegations have an “objective basis in fact,” they are protected by the law.

Recent case: Luisa Chavez-Lavagnino and Debra Yanez worked for a nonprofit organization that provides services to migrant and seasonal workers. Their job was to collect information from prospective clients that would be used to determine eligibility for federal grant-funded programs.

Both women said their supervisor urged them to provide false data and signatures to boost enrollment. They complained to management and soon found themselves unemployed. They sued and a jury awarded them back pay after concluding they had been terminated in retaliation for whistle-blowing.

The nonprofit asked the court to toss out the verdict, arguing that it really hadn’t broken any laws.

But the court said that was irrelevant. What mattered was the women believed in good faith that they were being asked to break the law by falsifying applications. (Chavez-Lavagnino, et al., v. Motivation Education Training, No. 10-14, DC MN, 2011)

Final note: The nonprofit also argued that it offered the women their jobs back shortly after they were terminated. But the court said their termination was still retaliation, even if the employer changed its mind on reflection. That didn’t right the wrong.

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