Employment Law in Minneapolis – the Basics.
Here’s a quick primer on employment law in Minneapolis and federal employment law. This should hopefully give you some useful background information.
Wrongful Termination in Minneapolis
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 an employer’s actions are unfair, unethical, or bad business, the employer hasn’t broken the law unless they make an employment decision such as termination for an illegal reason. Sometimes, 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 discrimination, retaliation, or 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 City of Minneapolis Code of Ordinances (Title 7) also prohibits discrimination. If you work for a company in Minneapolis, you can seek relief for discrimination through the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, in addition to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and EEOC.
- The second unlawful and wrongful reason for termination is retaliation or reprisalby an employer against an employee for making a complaint or report of discrimination. The Minnesota Human Rights Act, Title VII, and Minneapolis Code of Ordinances all 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 Minneapolis, 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 employment lawyers must have the ability to prove that the harassment at work was on account of the employees, 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. Minneapolis hostile work environment claims must be based on some form of unlawful discrimination.
Minimum Wage, Overtime, and Unlawful Deductions Claims in Minneapolis
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 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 $7.75 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 $7.75 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 the employees likely have a minimum wage claim 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, the employee likely has an overtime claim 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. Employment lawyers who represent employees then can bring claims on behalf of the entire group of employees to get compensation for all.
Proving a Discrimination, Wrongful Termination, Hostile Work Environment, or Wage and Hour Claims
Wrongful Termination and Discrimination Claims
Very rarely will an employer admit that it terminated an employee for an illegal, discriminatory reason. Usually, even if the employer actually discriminated 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 prevail on a wrongful termination or discrimination claim, Minneapolis employment lawyers 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.
Minneapolis employment attorneys have a couple ways that we use to prove pretext on behalf of employees. First, you 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 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.
Hostile Work Environment Claims
We prove these claims by basically documenting the maltreatment that employees have received. A couple things are very important here. First, employment lawyers 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 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.
Minimum Wage, Overtime, and Unlawful Deductions Claims
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.
We’re Minneapolis Employment Lawyers Who Focus on Plaintiffs’ Employment, Wrongful Termination, Harassment, Discrimination, Retaliation, and Wage and Hour Cases
We represent employees in Minneapolis, St. Paul, the surrounding metro, and the surrounding Twin Cities area 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 Minneapolis 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.
You May Be Entitled to Lost Wages, 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 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. The Minneapolis Code of Ordinances (Title 7) offers additional protections and remedies.
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. And, Title 7 of the City of Minneapolis Code of Ordinances also offers more protection against discrimination.
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.
Contact Our Minneapolis and St. Paul Twin Cities 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 Law 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 Law 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.