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Hellmuth & Johnson

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Landmarks in the Law


• Disability discrimination; reasonable accommodation request. The notification by an employee of an inability to do her work until cleared to do so by her doctor constituted sufficient request for a reasonable accommodation to avoid summary judgment. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed dismissal of the lawsuit for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), although a dissent by Judge Michael Colloton would have affirmed because there was no specific accommodation requested. Kowitz v. Trinity Health2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 18559 (8th Cir. 10/17/2016).

• Retaliation discharge; dismissal claim is upheld, qui tam remanded. A pair of employees who sued a for-profit college after they were fired following complaints about the school’s record-keeping were unsuccessful in challenging their termination on grounds of retaliation. Although upholding the dismissals, the 8th Circuit reversed and remanded a qui tam claim that the college obtained federal funding by fraudulent promises to keep accurate student attendance and grade records, which it failed to maintain. Bolderson v. City of Wentzville, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 19594 (8th Cir. 11/01/2016).’

• Worker’s compensation; assault exception upheld. The assault exception that allows employees injured at work to sue their employers in civil litigation outside of the workers compensation system may be applicable to an injury caused by horseplay in the workplace. While upholding dismissal of a tort claim, the court of appeals remanded to determine whether the exception applied to avoid the exclusivity of the workers compensation system. Schaefer v. Cargill Kitchen Solutions, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 995 (8th Cir. 11/07/2016) (unpublished).

• Unemployment compensation; misconduct upheld. A determination of disqualifying “misconduct” in denying a claim for unemployment compensation was upheld by the court of appeals. It held that the employee was properly denied benefits for violating the employer’s alcohol and drug testing policies. Ogunkola v. Cirrus Design Corp. 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 967 (8th Cir. 10/24/2016) (unpublished).

• Unemployment compensation; training concerns no reason to quit. An employee who quit her job because she felt she was not given adequate training was denied unemployment compensation benefits. The appellate court held that her concerns did not constitute “good reason” to resign. Davies v. Donaldson Co., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 985 (8th Cir. 10/17/2016) (unpublished).

Administrative Action

•  Minneapolis school district severance agreements. The use by the Minneapolis School District of severance agreements that include an agreement by employees not to sue for employment discrimination has been proscribed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The agency that oversees federal harassment and discrimination laws demanded that the district remove this provision in severance agreements signed by 50 departing employees over the past two and a half years. The EEOC’s aversion to those clauses might be extended to other severance agreements by employers in Minnesota.


As 2017 begins, the Minnesota Supreme Court is pondering a trio of workers compensation cases it heard in the closing weeks of last year.

A case with high topical significance and national importance raises the issue of whether an undocumented immigrant working illegally in this country is entitled to claim workers compensation benefits. The undocumented employee claims he was fired because he filed a workers compensation claim, in violation of the anti-retaliation provision of Minn. Stat. section 176.82. Sanchez v. Dahlke Trailer Sales, Inc., No. A15–1183.

The allowance of a discontinuance of benefits due to the judge’s determination that the claimant’s expert witness lacked competency is at issue in another case. The injured employee, who was hurt in a vehicle accident while on the job, challenges the termination of her benefits. Gianotti v. Ind. Sch Dist. 152, No.A16-0629.

The third case raises the issue of the propriety of an employee’s refusal of a job offer on grounds that it was inconsistent with her rehabilitation plan, which prompted discontinuance of her temporary total disability benefits. The hearing judge allowed termination of benefits, but the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals reversed. Gilbertson v. Williams Dingmann, LLC, No. A16-0895.

In one other workplace case argued late in 2016 (and not connected with job-related injury), the justices are contemplating whether a City of Minneapolis internal investigation of an age discrimination claim by a police officer challenging a job transfer constituted a voluntary “dispute resolution process” tolling the one-year statues of limitations under Minn. Stat. section 363A.28 subd 3 of the Human Rights Act. The Hennepin County District Court thought not, but the court of appeals reversed and remanded. Peterson v. City of Minneapolis, No. A15-1711

As published originally by Minnesota Lawyer.