Despite Minnesota’s plaintiff-friendly Whistleblower Act, a recent decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals shows that employers can still succeed in getting whistleblower claims dismissed on summary judgment.
In Lissick v. Anderson Corp., No. 19-3783, — F.3d —-, 2021 WL 1799731, (8th Cir. 2021), the court affirmed the district court’s order granting defendant-employer’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim of retaliation for making a sexual harassment claim in violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (“MWA”), as well as plaintiff’s claim of retaliatory discharge in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act and claim of retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Plaintiff alleged that he was terminated in violation of the MWA because, four months earlier, he reported to his supervisor that co-workers were sending inappropriate text messages (which included photos of nude women) to one another and reported to HR that two employees had falsified an eyewash station inspection report. Plaintiff argued that the short time frame between his termination and his reports supported an inference of causation. The Eighth Circuit disagreed and found that the plaintiff failed to establish causation through direct or circumstantial evidence. The court stated that “Under Minnesota law, even a two-month timespan between the employee’s protected activity and the employer’s adverse action is, by itself, too remote to support such an inference.” (citing Harnan v. Univ. of St. Thomas, 776 F. Supp. 2d 938, 948 (D. Minn. 2011)). Without additional evidence of causation, plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact capable of defeating summary judgment. The Court also found plaintiff failed to establish the causal link necessary for a prima facia case of retaliation under the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
If you have questions about defending against a Minnesota Whistleblower Act claim contact the Minnesota employment law attorneys at Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. Their attorneys can be reached at 612.455.0500.