Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. 8000 Flour Exchange Building 310 Fourth Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55415 612.455.0500
Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. 8000 Flour Exchange Building 310 Fourth Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55415 612.455.0500

Must a Whistleblower Act with the Purpose of “Exposing an Illegality?”

In a recent District of Minnesota case, Friedlander v. Edwards Lifesciences, LLC, et al., the Federal District Court certified the following question to the Minnesota Supreme Court: “Did the 2013 amendment to the Minnesota Whistleblower Act defining the term ‘good faith’ to mean ‘conduct that does not violate section 181.932, subdivision 3’ eliminate the judicially created requirement that the putative whistleblower act with the purpose of ‘exposing an illegality?'”

The Minnesota Whistleblower Act provides that “[a]n employer shall not discharge . . . an employee . . . because: (1) the employee . . . in good faith, reports a violation, suspected violation, or planned violation of any federal or state law or common law or rule adopted pursuant to law to an employer . . . .” Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subd. 1. Since the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in Obst v. Microtron, Inc., 614 N.W.2d 196 (Minn. 2000), courts have held that in order to determine if a reported violation or suspected violation was made in good faith, the Court must look to whether the report was made for the purpose of exposing an illegality. See Obst, 614 N.W.2d at 202.
This interpretation was generally accepted until the Minnesota Legislature amended the Minnesota Whistleblower Act in 2013. Among other changes, the amendments statutorily defined “good faith” to mean “conduct that does not violate section 181.932, subd. 3,” which essentially bars employees from making statements “knowing that they are false or that they are in reckless disregard of the truth.” Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subds. 3-4. The plaintiff in Friedlander argues that the effect of the amendment was to “legislatively overrule the judicially constructed expose-an-illegality requirement found in Obst and its progeny, in favor of a broad definition of ‘good faith’ that does not require any evaluation of the motives underlying the employee’s actions.”

If the Minnesota Supreme court chooses to decide this issue, the Court’s decision will have important consequences for both employers and plaintiffs, because Minnesota appellate courts have not yet weighed in on the scope of the expansion of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. This has meant that practitioners have been somewhat in the dark on where to draw lines as to what constitutes a good faith report of whistleblowing. Accordingly, stay tuned for further updates regarding the interpretation of the 2013 amendments to the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.

If you have questions about the Minnesota Whistleblower Act or are involved in a lawsuit regarding the Minnesota Whistleblower Act contact one of the Minnesota business and employment attorneys of Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A.
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Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. is a Minnesota employment law firm located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their employment law attorneys can be reached at 612.455.0500.