Court extends protections for Minnesota whistleblowers

The state’s highest court has resuscitated the case of a woman who blew the whistle on financial irregularities in Minneapolis Public Schools only to have her job eliminated.

The Minnesota Supreme Court today rejected the Minneapolis Public Schools’ assertion that Yvette Ford’s claim of retaliation came after the statute of limitations had run out.

Ford was the public relations director for the Minneapolis schools in 2007 when she reported alleged illegal and unethical practices in the system’s English Language Learners department. Her job was eliminated a year later.

But a district court agreed that the protections of the state’s whistleblower statute begin on the day an employee learns of her intended dismissal, not on the day she actually loses her job. The school system claimed the protections last for two years.

Today, however, Justice David Lillehaug wrote that a six-year statute of limitations applies in Ford’s case. That affirmation upholds a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision in 2014 that reversed the long-standing two-year protections for whistleblowers in Minnesota.

The effect on employers is substantial, an attorney on the website wrote after the Court of Appeals decision:

Apart from having to wait a much longer time to gain assurance that they will not be sued, employers terminating an employee or engaging in some other adverse personnel action must plan to keep employment records regarding the action for at least six years.

Employers also may have to consider taking statements from witnesses to alleged events regarding an adverse action, for claims may be brought long after many of them (including the participants in the action) have left the business.

Finally, to avoid a lengthy period of uncertainly, employers may be more willing to consider entering into severance agreements and releases with terminated employees to foreclose the prospect of claims, being brought nearly six years later.