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Employment Law

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Employment Law

Minnesota Employment Lawyers Provide the Basics on Employment Law in Minnesota

Minneapolis Employment Lawyer

Here’s a quick primer on employment law in Minnesota and federal employment law. This should hopefully give you some useful background information.

Wrongful Termination Claims in Minnesota

Minnesota is an “at-will”employment state. That means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all – even a stupid, incorrect, unfair, or unethical reason – provided that it’s not an illegal reason.

Employers can – and often do – make mistakes or bad business decisions when they terminate employees. Even if your employer’s actions are unfair, unethical, or bad business, your employer hasn’t broken the law unless they make an employment decision such as termination for an illegal reason. Sometimes, Minnesota employment lawyers refer to these claims as “wrongful termination” claims. We mainly use “wrongful termination” as shorthand for clients – most of the illegal reasons for termination that form the basis for a lawsuit are: discriminationretaliation, and whistleblowing.

There are several illegal reasons for termination:

  • The first illegal reason for termination is discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, disability, or sexual orientation. Both Minnesota state law (through the Minnesota Human Rights Act) and federal law (through Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act) prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of inherent and arbitrary criteria like race, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
  • The second unlawful and wrongful reason for termination is retaliation or reprisal by an employer against an employee for making a complaint or report of discrimination. The Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII both prevent employers from retaliating against employees for making a report of unlawful discrimination – either against themselves or other employees.
  • The third illegal reason for termination is retaliation for whistleblowing. Both federal law and state law protect whistleblower employees from suffering retaliation at their jobs for reporting conduct that they believe to be unlawful.
  • The federal government allows certain employees up to 90 days in a calendar year for medical leave for themselves or to care for family members through the Family and Medical Leave Act. An illegal reason for termination is if an employer retaliates against an employee for exercising his or her FMLA rights.
  • Minnesota protects its injured employees by preventing employers from retaliating against employees who get injured on the job and seek workers compensation benefits. Workers compensation retaliation is illegal. It is illegal for employers to terminate employees just because the employee was injured and sought workers compensation.


Hostile Work Environment Claims in Minnesota

Even if you haven’t been terminated, you may still have an employment claim against your employer for hostile work environment. This claim is frequently misunderstood, though. It’s not enough to bring a lawsuit to state that your boss or employer is mean to you, doesn’t treat you right, or doesn’t do things the way you think they should be done. Rather, in order to have a legal claim, the hostile work environment must be based on discrimination.

For example, sexual harassment is a common type of hostile work environment claim. Basically, an employee alleges that her supervisors have made her work environment hostile by sexual comments, innuendo, propositions, or even grabbing and assault. Race, age, disability, and sexual orientation discrimination can all form the basis for a hostile work environment claim, but Minnesota employment lawyers must have the ability to prove that the harassment at work was on account of the employee’s, race, gender, sex, age, disability, or sexual orientation. For better or worse, there is no law mandating kindness by employers to employees or among peers. Hostile work environment claims in Minnesota must be based on some form of unlawful discrimination.

Minimum Wage, Overtime, and Unlawful Deductions Claims

Both Minnesota and the United States mandate that employers pay employees minimum wage and pay time and a half for overtime work. Minnesota also prohibits unlawful deductions from employees’ paychecks by employers. The Fair Labor Standards Act and Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act prohibit retaliation by employers against Minnesota employees for making reports of unlawful wage and hour practices, such as failing to properly pay minimum wage or time and a half for overtime.

The mandatory minimum wage is different under state and federal law. The state mandated minimum wage is currently $9.86 per hour and the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. That means that Minnesota businesses must pay Minnesota employees the higher of the two – the state minimum wage of $9.86 per hour. As part of this, all work done by employees for employers must be “on the clock.” If companies require employees to do work “off the clock” – before, during, or after their shifts – then Minnesota employment lawyers can bring a minimum wage claim for the employees against the employer.

Also, under federal law, all hours worked per week over 40 by an employee are considered overtime and must be paid at time and a half. Under Minnesota state law, all hours worked over 48 by an employee are considered overtime and must be paid at time and a half. Minnesota companies must abide by both sets of laws: as a practical matter, that means that Minnesota employers must pay employees time and a half for all hours worked in a week over 40. If a company fails to do this, then Minnesota employment lawyers can bring an overtime claim for the employees against the employer.

Minnesota and federal plaintiff employment lawyers frequently bring these claims – for minimum wage, overtime, or unlawful deductions – as collective actions or class actions on behalf of all employees affected by the wrongful conduct. Oftentimes, employers short many employees on their paychecks, require off the clock work from many employees, or don’t properly pay overtime or minimum wage to entire groups of employees. Minnesota employment lawyers who represent employees can bring claims on behalf of the entire group of employees to get compensation for all.

Minnesota Employment Lawyers Prove Discrimination, Wrongful Termination, Hostile Work Environment, and Wage and Hour Claims for Minnesota Employees

Minneapolis-Saint Paul Employment Lawyers


Very rarely will an employer admit that it terminated an employee for an illegal, discriminatory reason. Usually, even if the employer actually discriminated you on the basis of age, race, disability, gender, or sexual orientation, the employer will make up and offer a different, non-discriminatory reason for termination. For example, the employer might claim that it terminated the employee based on poor performance. In order to win on a wrongful termination or discrimination claim, you must prove that the reason offered by the employer is a pretextual reason that is just being said so that the employer can avoid having to say the actual, illegal reason for termination.

As Minnesota employment lawyers, we’ve got a couple ways that we use to prove pretext on behalf of employees. First, we can demonstrate that the reason given by the employer is just factually wrong. So, for example, if the employer claims that it terminated an employee for poor performance, but actually gave the employee high performance reviews for a number of years and has no written records of any discipline or counseling of the employee, then we’ve created a fact question for a jury regarding whether the reason given by the employer is the real reason for termination, or just a pretextual (fake and made up) reason designed to mask unlawful discrimination.

Second, we can prove that the reason given by the employer isn’t the real reason for termination because it wasn’t equally applied to similarly situated employees. So, if the employer claims that it terminated someone for poor performance, but the employee’s peers actually had equal or worse performance reviews than the terminated employee – or documented performance problems that that employee didn’t have – than we’ve created a fact issue regarding whether the employer’s stated reason for termination is the actual reason, or just a pretextual reason designed to mask unlawful discrimination.

We prove these claims by documenting the maltreatment that employees have received. A couple things are very important here. First, we need to show that the hostile work environment was on account of your age, race, sex, disability, or sexual orientation. So employees can testify or offer other evidence about comments, drawings, emails, or other events that demonstrate that the maltreatment was motivated by discrimination.

Second, the employee needs to show that he or she took steps to notify management of the problem, but management took no action. For example, if an employee believes that her coworkers are sexually harassing her by making sexual comments or grabbing her or whatever, she needs to notify a supervisor as soon as possible. The employer is not automatically liable for the acts of rank and file employees. So just because her coworkers are sexually harassing her, the employer is not automatically liable. The employer is liable, though, if it knows about the sexual harassment and doesn’t take corrective action to protect the employee. So if the employee notified a supervisor about the sexual harassment, and the supervisor did nothing, and the harassment continued, then the employee has a strong case for hostile work environment sexual harassment against the employer.

In some ways, these claims are easier to prove than discrimination claims because we don’t need to prove an employer’s intent – we don’t need to show what was going on inside an employer’s head. The only thing we need to prove is that an employee worked a certain number of hours that he or she wasn’t properly paid for, or that unlawful deductions were taken from their checks.

The first thing that we’ll review are your paychecks and your timesheets, to see if they match. Sometimes, they may match but an employer has required you to work off the clock, so the off the clock time isn’t documented. Do your best to keep your own notes or log of the time that you work off the clock, so that we can recreate those hours when seeking damages.

However, ultimately, an employee’s testimony alone is sufficient evidence regarding the amount of hours worked off the clock if an employer has failed to keep accurate records of time worked.

You May Be Entitled to Lost Wages (including Back Pay and Front Pay), Emotional Distress Compensation, and Punitive Damages

For wrongful termination and discrimination claims, you may be entitled to back pay and front pay damages, emotional distress compensation, treble damages (that means 3 times (3x) the amount of your actual damages) under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, punitive damages under both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII, and your attorney fees and costs. You may even be entitled to get your job back (reinstatement).

For hostile work environment claims, state and federal law allow you to recover any lost wages, emotional distress damages, treble damages (that means three times the amount of actual damages), punitive damages under both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII, and your attorney fees and hard costs.

For workers compensation retaliation actions, Minnesota allows plaintiffs to recover back and front pay damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees and hard costs.

In minimum wage, overtime, and unlawful deductions actions brought under the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act or Fair Labor Standards Act, employees may recover up to 3 years worth of unpaid wages or overtime pay, plus an equal amount as liquidated damages, in addition to attorney fees and costs.

Under the Family Medical Leave Act, plaintiff employees may recover lostback pay and front pay, plus an email amount as liquidated damages, in addition to your attorney fees and costs.

A “statute of limitation” is the amount of time that you have to bring a lawsuit.  You must bring a lawsuit in that amount of time. If you don’t bring a lawsuit within the time allowed by the statute of limitations, then you are barred from ever bringing your suit.

For discrimination, hostile work environment, and wrongful termination claims, you have to move very quickly – these are among the shortest statutes of limitation in any area of law.  You have just 1 year to bring discrimination and wrongful termination claims under Minnesota state law.  And you have even less – just 300 days – to bring discrimination and wrongful termination claims under federal law.  And, under federal law, you need to first file your claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and get a right to sue letter from EEOC, before you’re allowed to file suit.  But, the good news is that once you file with EEOC, your statute of limitations is “tolled,” meaning that it doesn’t keep running while it’s pending with EEOC.  When the EEOC sends you a right to sue letter, you will have 90 days to bring a lawsuit after your receipt of that letter. If you don’t bring suit within that time, you will lose your right to sue on those employment claims forever.

For workers compensation retaliation claims, you have a 6 year statute of limitations in Minnesota, so if you bring suit within 6 years of the retaliation (usually your termination), then you’re good and within the time allowed.

For minimum wage, overtime, unpaid wages, and unlawful deductions claims – under either Minnesota state law or federal law – you have a 2 year statute of limitations, or 3 years if you can show that your employer’s violation was “willful.”  But your look-back period is only 2-3 years.  So, for example, say that you worked at an employer for 5 years and they didn’t pay you overtime even though you routinely worked more than 40 hours.  You should bring your lawsuit as quickly as possible, because if you wait, say a year and a half, then your look-back period of 2 years will only allow you to recover about 6 months worth of damages.  Even if you get a 3 year look-back because you can show willfulness, you’ll still only get about a year and a half worth of damages.  On the other hand, if you brought suit right away, you could a full 2 years or a full 3 years worth of the overtime pay (plus liquidated damages) that you’re owed.

Frequently Asked Questions to Minnesota Employment Lawyers

It depends on the kind of case.  For a wrongful termination, discrimination, or hostile work environment case, you’ve got 300 days for your federal claims and a year for your state claims. For a workers compensation retaliation case, you’ve got 6 years. For minimum wage, unpaid overtime, unlawful deductions, and unpaid wages cases, you’ve got 2 years or 3 years if you can show willfulness. For claims brought under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA claims), you’ve got 2 years.

In short, federal and state laws prevent employers from making employment decisions (like hiring, promotions, or firing) based on immutable criteria that we have no control over, like race, sex, age, disability, and sexual orientation.  These laws also generally protect employees who make reports of discrimination or illegal conduct from retaliation.  Here’s a brief list of employment discrimination and retaliation claims, with links to separate pages for more information.
  • Race discrimination is prohibited in employment under both state and federal law.  An employee’s race can’t even be a “motivating factor” – that means even 1% of the reason – for an employment decision.  Get more information here.
  • Sex or gender discrimination is also prohibited in employment under both state and federal law.  Employers may not make hiring, firing, promotion, or pay decisions based on an employee’s gender.  Click here to find out how we prove these claims.
  • Employers may not discriminate based on age, either.  We often find age discrimination in layoff decisions, where the employer needs to lay off a set number of employees, and all of them happen to be over 40 or 50 years old.  Here’s more information.
  • You are entitled to work free of discrimination based on disability as well. Federal and Minnesota law prevent employers from discriminating against employees based on disability status, provided that an employee can do the essential functions of her job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.  Employers are also required to engage in a good faith, interactive process to help find reasonable accommodations for disabled employees.  Here’s more detailed information.
  • Pregnancy discrimination in employment is prohibited by state and federal law.  This is a form of both gender discrimination and disability discrimination, and courts analyze it the same way.  Get more information here.
  • Minnesota state law prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.  Who you love can’t play a role in any employment decision about you.  More information here.
  • Employers can’t retaliate against Minnesota employees for:
Again, it depends on the kind of case:
  • For wrongful termination, discrimination, or hostile work environment cases, you can get back pay, front pay, emotional distress, punitive damages, treble damages (3 times your actual damages), plus your attorney fees and hard costs.
  • For minimum wage, unpaid overtime, unlawful deductions, and unpaid wages, you can generally get all of the wages that are unpaid and owed to you, plus an equal amount as liquidated damages, plus your attorney fees and hard costs.
  • For Family and Medical Leave Act claims, you can get back pay, front pay, liquidated damages in an amount equal to your back pay and front pay, plus your attorney fees and hard costs.
  • We work on a contingency fee basis. That means that you’ll never see an hourly bill or invoice from us.  Our fee is contingent on getting you paid by settlement or verdict; if that doesn’t happen, then we don’t get paid, either. This allows us to help clients that can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars an hour for a lawyer. So the bottom line is that you don’t need to worry about if you can afford to pay a lawyer, because you’ll never pay anything out of pocket – our fee only comes as a percentage of what we get for you. 

    Excellent question. There’s a lot of analysis that goes into this, so much so that we created another page to cover this in detail. Check it out here. The bottom line is that the value of your case – either at settlement or trial – depends on a number of things, including:
  • the strength of your case on the merits;
  • the amount of damages that you’ve suffered;
  • whether the defendant employer has the ability to pay a large amount of damages (or has insurance); and
  • your tolerance for risk.
  • It depends on what you’re looking for – different lawyers are good at different things. Check out this page for a more detailed discussion. Basically, if you want a trial lawyer that will get you the most value for your case by preparing your case for trial from Day 1, then we may be an excellent fit for you. But if you’re looking for a quick settlement from a volume based firm, that’s not our business model and there may be better choices out there for you.

    We’re Minnesota Employment Lawyers Who Focus on Plaintiffs’ Employment, Wrongful Termination, Harassment, Discrimination, Retaliation, and Wage and Hour Cases

    We represent employees across the States of Minnesota and Wisconsin in wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation,sexual harassment, FMLA, minimum wage and overtime, disability, workers compensation retaliation, and hostile work environment cases. We’ve been honored to take on – and beat – some of the largest employers in the country that broke the law.

    You probably have many questions right now, like:

    • I’ve been out of work for months now and am having trouble finding a job. Who will cover my lost wages?
    • I’ve suffered emotional distress as a result of my employer’s harassment and wrongful termination. Can I get the medical care and compensation that I need?
    • My employer wants me to sign a severance agreement that includes a release of all of employment claims. Should I sign it?

    These are just some of the questions that workers and employees have after suffering a wrongful termination by their employer. Our employment lawyers can help you answer these questions and will aggressively advocate and litigate on your behalf, so that you can start the process of getting your life back to normal.

    Contact Our Minnesota Employment and Wrongful Termination Attorneys.

    You must act quickly when it comes to employment claims. If you wait, there may be strict statutes of limitation that will bar you from filing any claim at all against your employer. Call Madia Newville today to discuss your case.

    First, contact our office and tell us about your situation. You’ll talk with our staff for about 5-10 minutes. They’ll get some basic information about you and your case.

    There’s some information that we’ll need when you call. We will want to know who you worked for, what kind of work you did, for how long worked there, how much you earned, if/when you were terminated, the reason given by your employer for any discipline and termination, and why do you think your employer did something unlawful or wrongful. If you have this information handy, it will allow us to proceed more quickly.

    We will get back to you shortly – usually within a few hours. If your potential case is a little outside of our wheelhouse, we may refer you to attorneys, agencies, or organizations that we think might be better suited to handle your situation. Our goal is to ensure you get the best and most appropriate help possible for your particular situation. If that’s not us, we’ll try to tell you immediately and point you in the right direction.

    If we think that we might be able help you, we’ll set an appointment for you to talk with one of our employment lawyers. We’ll discuss your case, and give you our honest assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, and value. If we then mutually agree that Madia Newville will represent you, we will talk about the process of moving forward with your case.

    When you talk with our employment lawyers, please be sure to have all relevant documents that you have in your possession. For example, that could include:  pay-stubs, personnel files, employment handbooks/policies, letters from your employer (including your termination letter), any text messages or emails that you think are important, and any other documents that you think might be helpful.


    We have a process that works in getting exceptional results for our clients. 

    We are trial lawyers who prepare every case for trial from Day 1. Investigation and legal research are the first things we do, and we spend a lot of time on them. Because we haven’t filed the case yet, we have complete control – the defendant has no say and we want to use this time wisely.  We interview witnesses that can help us prove the case.  We’ll ask you for all relevant documents in your possession and review those carefully as well.  We also will spend some time conducting legal research about unique issues in the case.  We pull the jury instructions that the judge will ultimately charge the jury with after closing arguments at trial. 

    Our next step is typically to send a demand letter to the defendant. In the letter, we thoroughly lay out: the facts surrounding the defendant’s misconduct; the applicable law (including statutory and case citations) that make clear that the defendant broke the law; an analysis of your damages and the defendant’s monetary exposure; a demand for a monetary amount to settle the claim; and an instruction to preserve all relevant evidence, including electronic evidence. The point of this letter is to give the defendant a chance to do the right thing and pay a fair amount before litigation, and to give the defendant an opportunity to present any defenses or evidence it wants us to consider before moving forward.  Sometimes we skip the demand letter if there are strategic reasons to move straight to filing, but we typically give defendants a chance to do the right thing.

    If early negotiations fail, great – we file a Complaint and serve the defendant with it. A Complaint is a legal document that states the facts of what happened and alleges how the defendant broke the law. It formally starts the lawsuit.  Many lawyers draft complaints in a general and relatively vague way, just to get it done and filed – because that’s all that’s really required.  We take a different view. We view the Complaint as our first chance to tell your story to the judge, and we take it seriously. So we draft detailed complaints and include legal citations to statutory and judicial authority on unique points.  Sometimes we’ll include a number of exhibits, diagrams, or other demonstrative aids to help the Court understand our claims.  A secondary benefit of this approach is that defense lawyers reading the Complaint can become educated on the problems of their case and the state of the law – sometimes this leads them to reach out to us shortly after service of the Complaint to re-initiate settlement negotiations.  Of course, by that time, the price for settlement has gone up.

    Some lawyers view written discovery as a necessary evil – something to get done and out of the way before depositions.  Not us.  Written discovery is a gift and an opportunity.  We spend a great deal of time crafting requests for documents and interrogatories (questions for the defendant to answer in writing) that are specific, detailed, and tailored to get what we need to prove our case.  Many lawyers – even great ones – think written discovery is a waste of time because defense lawyers typically answer them on behalf of their clients and can try to stonewall with legalese and objections.  We view this as a wonderful opportunity.  In our experience, most defense lawyers can’t help themselves when answering discovery: they over-state their defenses and make assertions that their clients will not be able to support in testimony. So we get to commit the defendant to defenses that they can’t back up, leading to contradictions, confusion, and chaos in their depositions later on.  We also use Requests for Admission – which many lawyers don’t.  The Federal Rules and Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure allow us to ask defendants to “admit” certain facts.  We send them RFAs that are very difficult for them to deny.  Of course, they do it anyway, but that sets them up later for cost and fee-shifting, which the Rules mandate for defendants that deny RFAs that are later proven true.  And usually, we can get the defendants’ own witnesses to admit facts that their defense lawyers denied in RFA.  That’s a great situation that leads to more chaos and confusion on the defense side.

    One last point on written discovery – we send multiple waves of it throughout discovery.  We typically send 3 or 4 sets of written discovery requests to defendants throughout discovery.  This compounds the problems for them, because the defense lawyers continue to overstate their defenses, but now run into contradictions from not just the defendant witnesses’ deposition testimony, but also their own previous discovery responses.  This makes for a great record that we can present to the judge at dispositive motions, and use for impeachment at trial.

    This is our chance to question relevant witnesses, on the record with a court reporter (we typically videotape important depositions as well). We get to confront the defense witnesses with all of the evidence we’ve developed through written discovery and document production. By this time, the defendant put its witnesses in an impossible position through its written defenses, which are often untrue and indefensible.  So the witness has to either lie to support the defense, or admit it’s not true.  That’s a dilemma that works for our clients either way, no matter which option the witness takes.  We use depositions to expose contradictions, create a record for dispositive motions, lock witnesses into their stories so that we can impeach them later at trial, and sometimes, to show defense lawyers how hopeless their case is.  We often calls from defense counsel shortly after depositions of their clients, seeking to re-start settlement negotiations.

    The defendant will usually make a motion for summary judgment after discovery, asking the Court to throw out the case without having a jury trial. Because we’ve hit discovery so hard – both through written discovery and depositions – this is a tough motion for defense counsel to write in our cases.  We draft our response for the Court and now get to bring everything together: the admissions, contradictions, nonsense, and obvious fact disputes that we’ve uncovered through discovery.  We tell a compelling story that wraps everything together for the Court and makes clear that the defense motion has to be denied, and the defendant needs to face a jury for its conduct.

    Sometimes, we’ll even make an affirmative motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to grant judgment in favor of our client without a trial. These motions are generally rare for plaintiffs to make, because the defendant can usually point to some fact dispute on its intent or some other factor that necessitates a trial. But we make affirmative summary judgment motions significantly more than is typical for plaintiffs, and that’s because the work we put in during discovery helps build a fantastic record to do so.

    After the Court denies the defense motion for summary judgment, the defendant has only 2 options: 1) do the right thing and pay you a fair amount to our client to settle your claim (usually much, much more at this point than the defendant could have paid at the beginning of the case to settle); or 2) face a jury for its conduct and risk an enormous verdict. This is the dilemma that we have been creating and forcing the defendant into for the entire case. We’ll engage in settlement negotiations at this point from a position of extreme strength, mainly because most defendants are (rightly) terrified of facing a jury to defend their conduct.

    This is, candidly, our favorite part of the case – why we went to law school: to hold the powerful accountable before juries.  We prepare heavily for trial, including: detailed witness preparation, focus groups, and mock trials.  At this point, the potential outcomes and consequences for the defendant are much more severe than if it simply did the right thing at the beginning of the case and paid a fair amount to compensate our client for its misconduct.  As we advocate to the jury for our client, we’re also mindful of protecting the record so that defendants will be unsuccessful in attacking the verdict in post-trial motions or appeal.

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