May 5, 2016

Tick Tock: Appeals Court Opens Door to Stale Discrimination Claims by Broadly Interpreting Statute of Limitations Tolling Clause

Posted in Age, Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Harassment, Limitation of Actions, MDHR Mediation, Sexual Harassment, Statutes of Limitation tagged , , , , , , , at 11:42 am by Tom Jacobson

Tom Jacobson retake - Copy - Cropped

“In light of the Peterson decision, employers should review their HR complaint policies to minimize the chance of inadvertent extensions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act statute of limitations,” says employment law attorney Tom Jacobson.

Employers may need to update their HR complaint policies and procedures in light of a May 2, 2016 decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in the case of Peterson v. City of Minneapolis. The decision has the impact of potentially extending the time limit employees have for pursuing claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and policy updates may minimize the impact of this decision.

The Peterson case started when two Minneapolis police officers claimed their October, 2011 transfers were the result of age discrimination. The officers filed complaints with the city’s human resources department a month later. The HR department investigated the complaints, and in January, 2013 the department concluded that the transfers were not based on age.

The officers then filed age discrimination charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. They later withdrew those charges, but in March, 2014 they filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis. The trial court dismissed the officers’ case on the basis that it was started after the one year statute of limitations in the Minnesota Human Rights Act had expired. One of the officers appealed.

In reviewing the trial court’s decision, the appellate court noted that under the MHRA:

The running of the one-year limitation period is suspended during the time a potential charging party and respondent are voluntarily engaged in a dispute resolution process involving a claim of unlawful discrimination under this chapter, including arbitration, conciliation, mediation or grievance procedures pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement or statutory, charter, ordinance provisions for a civil service or other employment system or a school board sexual harassment or sexual violence policy.

Thus, the issue before the Court of Appeals was whether filing an internal complaint with the city’s HR department meant the parties were “voluntarily engaged in a dispute resolution process involving a claim of unlawful discrimination,” so as to suspend (or “toll”) the running of the MHRA’s one-year statute of limitations. The court ruled that they were.

Specifically, the court held that the city’s HR complaint process was a “dispute resolution process” under the MHRA, so by engaging in that process, the statute of limitations did not run while that process was ongoing. Consequently, the officers’ MDHR charge, which was filed more than a year after the alleged discrimination, was ruled to be timely despite the MHRA’s one-year statute of limitations.

With this ruling, the Court of Appeals has essentially given employees a tool for dragging out their deadline for filing MHRA charges or lawsuits well beyond the one-year time limit they would otherwise have. This is because for as long as they and the employer are engaged in an internal HR complaint process, the statute of limitations clock will likely not be ticking.

Taken to extremes, this means an employee could file an internal complaint 364 days after an alleged discriminatory act, thereby likely suspending the statute of limitations that would otherwise have expired the next day. And, because the Court of Appeals did not clarify the limits of what it means to “voluntarily engage in” such internal complaint processes, it appears an employee could extend the time limit almost indefinitely by repeatedly engaging the employer in ongoing discussions about the same problem or the process itself.

It is difficult to predict how this case will play out in practice. However, to minimize its impact, employers should consider: revising HR complaint policies to address how such complaints impact the MHRA’s statute of limitations; promptly investigating and resolving discrimination and harassment complaints so as to quickly end what could be perceived as “voluntary engagement” in a “dispute resolution process.”

For more information about these or other employment law issues, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this article 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 2016 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA.

July 3, 2012

Now Arbitrating at a Forum Near You

Posted in Alternative Dispute Resolution, Arbitration, Mediation tagged , , , , , , , at 4:32 pm by Tom Jacobson

I am pleased to announce that I recently completed Minnesota’s Certified Civil Arbitration Training and am now included on the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Adjudicative/Evaluative Roster of Rule 114 Neutrals.  Cutting through the legalese, this means I am now available to serve as an arbitrator in civil disputes pending in Minnesota.

So, just what is arbitration? The Minnesota Judicial Branch describes arbitration as:

A forum in which each party and its counsel present its position before a neutral third party, who renders a specific award. If the parties stipulate in advance, the award is binding and is enforceable in the same manner as any  contractual obligation. If the parties do not stipulate that the award is binding, the award is not binding and a request for trial de novo (generally reconsideration by the district court) may be made.

As an arbitrator, I am now available to serve as the “neutral third party” to decide parties’ disputes.

I am also a trained mediator.  Mediation differs from arbitration in that it is, according to the Judicial Branch:

A forum in which a neutral third party facilitates communication between parties to promote settlement. A mediator may not impose his or her own judgment on the issues for that of the parties.

Mediation can be a highly effective way to resolve disputes while reducing (and in some cases, eliminating) the expense and duration of protracted lawsuits.

For more information about my arbitration or mediation services, 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

January 18, 2012

Pepsi popped for $3.1M in background check case

Posted in Application Process, Color, Race tagged , , , , , , at 12:24 pm by Tom Jacobson

Background checks are very important tools during the hiring process, but as Pepsi Beverages (formerly Pepsi Bottling Group) recently learned, asking the wrong questions can be discriminatory — and expensive.  In a January 11, 2012 press release the EEOC reported that Pepsi has agreed to pay $3.13 million to settle a case challenging its former background checking policy.

At issue was Pepsi’s policy which rejected applicants who had been arrested and were pending prosecution.  The policy also denied employment to applicants who had been arrested or convicted of certain minor offenses.  According to the EEOC, this policy disproportionately excluded black applicants from permanent employment and that it therefore violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Pepsi also changed is background checking policy, and it agreed to offer employment opportunities to victims of its former policy, supply the EEOC with regular reports on its hiring practices, and conduct Title VII training for its hiring personnel and managers.

Although using arrest and conviction records to screen applicants is not per se illegal under Title VII, it can be when it is not relevant to the job. Therefore, employers are urged to use them cautiously.

According to Julie Schmid, Acting Director of the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office, “When employers contemplate instituting a background check policy, the EEOC recommends that they take into consideration the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the conviction and/or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job sought in order to be sure that the exclusion is important for the particular position.  Such exclusions can create an adverse impact based on race in violation of Title VII.” Schmid added, “We hope that employers with unnecessarily broad criminal background check policies take note of this agreement and reassess their policies to ensure compliance with Title VII.”

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 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

November 30, 2011

Your voice is needed!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 9:34 am by Tom Jacobson

It’s sometimes said that laws and sausage are two things we should never see being made. And one thing’s for sure — if the ingredients going into either of them are bad, the finished product can be sickening.

When it comes to lawmaking, the only way our legislators get the right ingredients is if we speak up and let them know what’s on our minds.  The Minnesota Legislature is gearing up for another session which will start in late January, 2012, so now is the perfect time to tell them what we want.

I currently chair the Legislative Committee of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, and we need your input.  If you have human resources issues that you would like to see addressed in St. Paul, let me know, and our committee will try to incorporate them into the position statements we will submit to our legislators and Governor Dayton before the session starts.  If you would like to contribute, your input is needed before December 31. Also, if you would like to serve on the committee, contact me for more details.

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 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

May 23, 2011

The times they are a changin’: will you sink or swim?

Posted in Computer Use, Confidential Information, Employee Privacy, Exempt/Non-Exempt Employees, Independent Contractors, Internet Policies, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , at 8:11 pm by Tom Jacobson

As I sit through the 2011 Minnesota Employment Law Institute, this 1964 Bob Dylan classic has been running through my mind:

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”

The Times They Are a Changin’, Bob Dylan (1964), http://bit.ly/hAPUnh.

Dylan’s words couldn’t be more fitting for today’s employers.  The 2011 Institute points out that rising around us are floodwaters like Facebook, blogs, tweets, Wikileaks, the new Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, increased enforcement efforts by the Department of Labor, protecting confidential information and trade secrets, and the mis-classification of non-exempt employees and independent contractors.  Employers who accept the sea of change and learn how to swim through it will succeed; those who don’t will sink like stones.

To learn to swim, we hire instructors and take lessons.  If you would like more information about how I can teach you to swim though the sea of employment law change, 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 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson, PA

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