Think twice before suing your own employee for negligence — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Minnesota employers, take note: Courts don’t take kindly to employers that try to sue their employees for negligence as a counterclaim to a discrimination lawsuit.

In fact, Minnesota law requires employers to indemnify employees for costs associated with a lawsuit filed because of the employee’s alleged wrongdoing while working for the employer. The only exception is harm caused by intentional misconduct, willful neglect of duties or bad faith.

Recent case: Jamie Dochniak worked for Dominium Management as a leasing consultant. The company demoted her to a groundskeeping position for alleged poor performance. She thought the real reason was that she had turned down a manager’s sexual advances. She sued.

Then Dochniak slept through a series of pager calls from renters who were trying to report a water leak. The delay caused about $20,000 in damages, and the company fired Dochniak. Then it countersued Dochniak for negligence, trying to recover for the water damage.

Dochniak lost her sexual harassment claim, but succeeded in having the negligence claim against her dismissed. The court reasoned that Minnesota law would have required the company to indemnify Dochniak for any damages she incurred if the company sued for negligence in the performance of her duties—so it would be pointless for the employer to sue and win and then turn around and pay Dochniak back for anything she had to pay in damages. (Dochniak v. Dominium Management Services, No. 06-237, DC MN, 2008)

Final note: The employer also tried to sue Dochniak for filing a frivolous lawsuit. The court rejected that claim, too.

The bottom line: Courts don’t like it when employers get overly aggressive and try to drive the employee into the ground. Leaving well enough alone is usually the best strategy.

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