When employees are brave enough to come forward to report misconduct on the part of management or fellow employees in the interests of protecting the organization, they deserve to be commended for their courage and honesty. Unfortunately, this isn't always what happens and employees who take this step may find themselves demoted or, even worse, terminated.
If you’re suspicious that something unlawful is going on in your workplace, you may have wondered whether it would be a good idea to secretly record phone calls or conversations in order to gather evidence before blowing the whistle. If you work in Minnesota, you absolutely should not do so without first talking to an attorney.
When people suspect discrimination in the workplace, one of the things they worry most about is what will happen to them if they file a complaint. Both Minnesota and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employer retaliation when employees stand up for their rights. Nonetheless, many people fear that their employers will take some revenge anyway, especially if their claims fail.
Two housekeeping workers have filed a lawsuit against a Kaiser hospital in California and its contract cleaning service, claiming they were fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on unsanitary conditions that affected both workers and patients. The women were targeted not only as whistleblowers, they say, but also because they had filed workers’ compensation claims. Employer retaliation for either of those reasons by federal law and by the laws of both California and Minnesota.
It doesn’t appear that the shutdown of the federal government that began on Tuesday is likely to end quickly, that that could cause some headaches for workers. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Labor has had to put more than 80 percent of its workforce on furlough, leaving only 2,954 Labor Department employees on the job nationwide. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a division of the Labor Department, and its workforce has been cut even more deeply -- to 5 percent of its usual size. That means a total of 107 people are currently on staff at the EEOC.
For physicians, achieving a board certification in their medical specialty often isn’t the result of additional training undertaken to bring prestige to their practices. In many areas, board certification is either required to practice at all, or in order to achieve affordable malpractice insurance. For dermatologists, apparently, certification is the final exam, so to speak, just as bar membership is for practicing attorneys. When dermatologists fail the certification exam -- or are later expelled by the board -- they must repeat their medical residencies, according to a recent federal lawsuit.
Last year, two fired deans from Globe University / Minnesota School of Business filed unlawful discharge lawsuits claiming that they had been fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on misleading practices and ethical issues at the for-profit colleges. Under both Minnesota and federal law, employers are prohibited from retaliating against whistleblowers who come forward about perceived ethical or legal wrongdoing.
An interesting wrongful termination ruling came recently from the State of New York’s Appellate Division, involving one of the nation’s largest wholesale grocery distributers, C&S Wholesale Grocers. While the specifics of New York law differ from that of Minnesota, the principles of the decision would apply here and in most U.S. jurisdictions.
What could Minnesota’s own Target have been thinking? According to a race discrimination lawsuit filed by three former employees who worked at a California Target warehouse, their managers were virtually all Caucasians who routinely used racial slurs against Hispanics and otherwise discriminated against people of Latino origin. The three Hispanic men claim they were fired in retaliation for making a complaint to human resources.
The Supreme Court of the United States made a couple of key decisions regarding workplace discrimination and retaliation cases, and neither was in favor of the victim of such an act. Many people here in St. Paul and all across Minnesota have had the unfortunate experience of being victimized in a workplace discrimination incident -- and they know the pain and embarrassment such an incident can cause. So to hear that the Supreme Court has made cases similar to theirs more pro-business is unlikely to sit well with them.