The HR Specialist: Minnesota Employment Law

Employers can’t fire employees in retaliation for “blowing the whistle” on illegal activities. But Minnesota’s Whistleblower Statute doesn’t apply to workers who complain about practices they simply think are unethical.

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Ellen Bahr was a supervisor for Capella University and regularly had to evaluate workers in her department. One black woman was performing far worse than the rest of the workers, so Bahr placed her on an improvement plan. Even then, the employee’s work remained below standard …

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Exotic dancers at suburban Minneapolis’ King of Diamonds club pay the club a fee of $20 to $100 every night they work. King of Diamonds maintains the dancers are independent contractors and “pay for the pole” in order to earn tips. The club does not pay them an hourly wage. Attorney E. Michelle Drake sees things differently.

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The Minnesota Legislature recently enacted a law designed to protect employers from some of the legal risks that may accompany hiring people with criminal backgrounds. The law is designed to help those who have served their sentences re-enter society as productive citizens.

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Here’s a good reason to be careful about disciplining employees right after they complain about possible discrimination: A court may view the timing as so suspicious that it won’t  toss out the case early. Then it will be up to you to prove the complaint and discipline weren’t related.

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It’s one of the sad realities of today’s litigious world: Even when you win a lawsuit, you’re seldom able to recoup all your legal fees unless you win big. That’s true even if your opponent is the EEOC and it’s clear it didn’t have much of a case to begin with.

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Employers have faced more retaliation claims ever since the U.S. Supreme Court made such cases easier to win by ruling that retaliation is an action that “might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” While the federal courts have placed some limits on what constitutes a retaliatory act, they continue to struggle with the question.

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals has decertified a class-action lawsuit brought by 4,900 current and former Minnesota employees of 3M. The suit alleged that company policies, seemingly neutral, actually had a disparate impact on older workers.

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In one of its most anticipated employment law decisions in years, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that New Haven, Conn., discriminated against white firefighters when it refused to promote them after they passed a test that most black co-workers failed.

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It’s natural for supervisors and managers to become upset when employees accuse them of some form of discrimination. Tell them they must resist the impulse to strike back. It inevitably makes the situation worse. Many forms of managerial punishment may end up being construed as retaliation—which can be far easier to prove than the alleged discrimination that started all the trouble.

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