On August 9, 2017, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the 2013 amendments to the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (“MWA”) were specifically intended by the Minnesota legislature to counter previous court decisions that had limited the scope of the MWA. Friedlander v. Edwards Lifesciences, LLC, No. A16-1916 (August 9, 2017). The legislature added a definition of “good faith” to the statute, which now defines it as “conduct that does not violate section 181.932, subdivision 3.” The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that this change was meant to abrogate its own prior decision in another case, Obst v. Microtron, Inc., 614 N.W.2d 196, 202 (Minn. 2002) in which it interpreted “good faith” as requiring a would-be-whistleblower to have intended to expose an illegality when she made a report in order for the report to be considered a protected activity.
Minnesota Statutes Section 181.932, Subdivision 3 states: “False Disclosures. This section does not permit an employee to make statements or disclosures knowing that they are false or that they are in reckless disregard of the truth.” Post-amendment, therefore, for a report to be made in “good faith” the employee need only show that she did not know that the report was false and did not act in reckless disregard for the truth.
This matter came before the Minnesota Supreme Court as a “certified question” from a United States District Court judge who is presiding over the case in federal court. Edwards Life Sciences, the defendant in the lawsuit, argued that the pre-amendment judicial standard was still good law and that employees claiming whistleblower protection must show that they had intended to expose illegality when they made their report. The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously disagreed and the dispute now returns to federal court for resolution.
The Friedlander decision is further confirmation that the 2013 amendments to the MWA have altered the legal landscape in Minnesota and made it easier for plaintiffs to bring a whistleblower claim.
Shaun Parks is a Minnesota employment law attorney. He can be reached at 612-455-0991 or a firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not hesitate to contact Shaun if you have any questions regarding this decision or any questions related to employee reports, or employee discipline and discharge.