August 28, 2012

Seagate IV – the Final Chapter?

Posted in Fraud and Misrepresentation, Hiring and Recruiting, Minnesota Statute 181.64, Minnesota Statute 181.65 tagged , , , , , at 5:28 pm by Tom Jacobson

Chandramouli Vaidyanathan’s $2.4 million award for damages and attorney’s fees has been thrown out.

As you may recall, Vaidyanathan was awarded $1.9 million in damages and another half million in attorney’s fees after a Minnesota jury found that his former employer, Bloomington-based Seagate US, LLC, misrepresented the job for which he was recruited. For more details on the case, see my previous articles, Bloomington-based Seagate Hit with $1.9m Verdict for Misrepresenting Job to Recruit, Seagate’s Liability to Duped Recruit Jumps to $2.4 Million, and Seagate III – the Saga Continues.

Seagate appealed the case, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed the trial court outcome. The appellate court’s decision was based on its conclusion that the trial court had improperly instructed the jury about what it takes to prove misrepresentation under the applicable statute, Minnesota Statute § 181.64. Specifically, the court ruled that “The jury should have been instructed that it could hold Seagate liable if Seagate knew that its representations were false.” Because the jury was not properly instructed, the court threw out the verdict and the attorney’s fee award as well.

But this may not be the end of the story, for the court also ordered a new trial. Stay tuned.

What you need to know: By requiring proof of actual knowledge, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has raised the bar for employees who want to prove misrepresentation under Minnesota Statute § 181.64.

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

Advertisements

August 15, 2012

Court Rejects Same-sex Harassment Claim

Posted in Discrimination, Gender / Sex, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Orientation, Stereotyping tagged , , at 10:56 am by Tom Jacobson

Last year I wrote about a case where a jury awarded a construction worker nearly half a million dollars in  a same-sex / gender stereotyping case (see Same-sex Harassment Costs Contractor $451K). That verdict has now been overturned.

The case was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Kerry Woods who alleged that his supervisor at Boh Brothers Construction Co., LLC harassed and taunted him.  According to the EEOC, the supervisor engaged in verbal abuse, made taunting gestures of a sexual nature and exposed himself. The EEOC also presented evidence that the supervisor harassed Woods “because he thought he was feminine and did not conform to the supervisor’s gender stereotypes of a typical ‘rough ironworker.'”

Boh Brothers appealed the verdict, and in a July 27, 2012 decision, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment. The appellate court based its decision on a finding that there was “insufficient evidence that [the alleged harasser] ‘acted on the basis of gender’ in his treatment of Woods.”

Importantly, the court stopped short of rejecting all sex-stereotyping cases under Title VII:

There is the question raised in this appeal whether sex stereotyping is a cognizable form of same-sex harassment under Title VII. As the facts allow for resolution on narrower grounds, we leave that question for another day.

What you need to know:  Minnesota employers need to be careful to not assume that the Boh Brothers decision frees them from liability for same-sex harassment or gender stereotyping. The Boh Brothers case was decided by the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but Minnesota is part of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals; therefore, the decision is not binding precedent here. It was also decided based on the specific facts of the case. Moreover, the Minnesota Human Rights Act expressly prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.; therefore, the outcome of the case may certainly have been different under Minnesota law.

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

August 8, 2012

Welcome, Mike!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:35 am by Tom Jacobson

Michael J. Cass

We are pleased to announce that attorney Michael J. Cass has joined our law firm. Mike started his legal career in the Minneapolis area as a law clerk for the Honorable Stephen C. Aldrich. He then moved into private practice where he focused primarily on estate planning, probate, guardianships and conservatorships. At our firm, Mike will continue to work with clients in those areas, and he will serve as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Alexandria.

Originally from South Dakota, Mike is a 2007 magna cum laude graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, where he was active as a senior editor for the law review and a student attorney in the law clinic. Prior to law school, Mike attended college at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, where he graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in computer science. Mike and his wife, Katie, are busy raising their daughter, and they are excited to get involved in the Alexandria community.

Welcome, Mike!

August 5, 2012

With Legitimate Business Reasons for Dismissal, Plaintiffs Can’t Always Get What They Want

Posted in At-will Employment, Color, Disability, Discrimination, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Gender / Sex, Legitimate business reason, Marital Status, National Origin, Pretext, Prima Facie Case, Race, Reduction in Force (RIF), Religion, Reprisal, Retaliation, Sexual Orientation, Termination for Cause, Wrongful Termination tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:20 pm by Tom Jacobson

I’ve often advocated that regardless of whether an employment relationship is contractual (where the reasons and/or process for dismissal may be spelled out in an agreement) or at-will (where the employment can be ended with or without notice and with or without legal cause), the best practice is to have a legitimate business reason for discharging an employee. Three recent court decisions validate my point.

Let me set the stage by noting that in discrimination cases, the employee wants to prove that the employer’s actions were based on some unlawful discriminatory reason, such as age, race or gender.  The employer, of course, wants to prove that its decisions were based on entirely legitimate reasons. To balance these competing interests, the courts recognize a process that begins with the employee being required to present a legally-specified bare minimum of evidence suggesting that discrimination occurred. This is called the employee’s prima facie case. If the employee can do that, the burden shifts to the employer to present evidence that its actions were based on legitimate (non-discriminatory) business reasons. Once that’s done, the burden shifts back to the employee to present evidence that the employer’s stated reason is a pretext, which is basically a cover up for the true discriminatory motive. In legalese, this is referred to as the McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting framework (named after the  United States Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in the case of McDonnell-Douglas v. Green).

The effectiveness of being able to establish a legitimate business reason played out recently in three separate cases. First, in Prody v. City of Anoka a former employee established a prima facie case of age discrimination under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). The employer then presented evidence that he was dismissed as a part of a reduction in force (RIF). Because the plaintiff could not establish pretext, the case was dismissed.

Next, in Bone v. G4 Youth Services, LLC the employee alleged age, race and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) discrimination. As in the Prody case, the plaintiff was unable to show that the employer’s stated reasons for the discharge (failing to follow a directive, poor communication, losing the trust of employees, and refusing in general to accommodate employees’ requests) were a pretext for discrimination.

Finally, in Hilt v. St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc. the plaintiff claimed the employer fired her in violation of Minnesota’s Whistleblower Act. The employer presented evidence that the termination resulted from a RIF, and because the plaintiff could not establish that the RIF was a pretext, the court dismissed the case.

So, as these three cases illustrate, if you are an employee who feels you’ve been discriminated against, but your employer can demonstrate a legitimate business reason for its actions, You Can’t Always Get What You Want (thank you, Rolling Stones!).

What you need to know:  Regardless of the type of employment relationship, it is always an employer’s best practice to be able to rely on evidence to show that employment decisions are based on legitimate non-discriminatory reasons.

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

%d bloggers like this: