Wrongful Termination in Minnesota
Minnesota is an “at-will” employment state. That means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all – even a stupid, incorrect, unfair, or unethical reason – provided that it’s not an illegal reason.
Employers can – and often do – make mistakes or bad business decisions when they terminate employees. Even if an employer’s actions are unfair, unethical, or bad business, the employer hasn’t broken the law unless they make an employment decision such as termination for an illegal reason.
Sometimes, employment lawyers refer to these claims as “wrongful termination” claims. We mainly use “wrongful termination” as shorthand for clients – most of the illegal reasons for termination that form the basis for a lawsuit are discrimination, retaliation, or whistleblowing.
Illegal Reasons for Terminating an Employee
There are several illegal reasons for termination that could form the basis for a wrongful termination claim:
- The first illegal reason for termination is discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, disability, or sexual orientation. Both Minnesota state law (through the Minnesota Human Rights Act) and federal law (through Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act) prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of inherent and arbitrary criteria like race, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
- The second unlawful and wrongful reason for termination is retaliation or reprisal by an employer against an employee for making a complaint or report of discrimination. The Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII both prevent employers from retaliating against employees for making a report of unlawful discrimination – either against themselves or other employees.
- The third illegal reason for termination is retaliation for whistleblowing. Both federal law and state law protect whistleblower employees from suffering retaliation at their jobs for reporting conduct that they believe to be unlawful.
- The federal government allows certain employees up to 90 days in a calendar year for medical leave for themselves or to care for family members through the Family and Medical Leave Act. An illegal reason for termination is if an employer retaliates against an employee for exercising his or her FMLA rights.
- Minnesota protects its injured employees by preventing employers from retaliating against employees who get injured on the job and seek workers compensation benefits. Workers compensation retaliation is illegal. It is illegal for employers to terminate employees just because the employee was injured and sought workers compensation.
- Both the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act protect employees from termination or firing in retaliation for questioning, make a complaint regarding, or opposing unlawful pay practices, including an employer not paying proper overtime or requiring off-the-clock work. If you think you were terminated because you questioned your employer’s pay practices, you may have a wrongful termination claim.
The “At Will” Employment Rule Doesn’t Apply if You Have an Employment Contract.
The major exception to the at-will employment rule discussed above is if you have an employment contract with your employer. Most people don’t, so the at-will doctrine (and the illegal reasons for termination stated above) apply to most employees in Minnesota.
But if you have an employment contract, the terms of your contract may provide additional protections to you in addition to those stated above. The specific protections vary from contract to contract, so we’d need to see it first, but generally speaking: many employment contracts set out specific reasons for which employment may be terminated “with cause” or “without cause.” If your employer did not terminate you for one of those reasons – following the procedures specified – you may have a wrongful termination claim based on your employment contract.
What is a Constructive Discharge?
Constructive discharge is a legal concept that you can use to prove a wrongful termination claim even if your employer didn’t technically fire you and you actually quit. It makes for a tougher case than if you were fired, but there’s a way to do it. You need to show that your employer made working conditions for you so terrible and onerous that you had no choice but to resign. If you can prove that, then constructive discharge applies and you can pursue a wrongful termination claim even if you quit and were not fired.
How Do I Prove a Wrongful Termination Claim?
Your employer probably isn’t going to admit that it terminated you for an illegal, discriminatory reason. Usually, when employers discriminate on the basis of age, race, disability, gender, or sexual orientation, the employer will make up and offer a different, non-discriminatory reason for termination. For example, the employer might claim that it terminated you for poor performance. In order to win on a wrongful termination or discrimination claim, you must prove that the reason offered by the employer is a pretextual reason that is just being said so that the employer can avoid having to say the actual, illegal reason for termination.
We’ve got a couple ways that to prove pretext on behalf of employees. First, you can demonstrate that the reason given by the employer is just factually wrong. So, for example, if your employer claims that it terminated you for poor performance, but actually gave you high performance reviews for a number of years and has no written records of ever giving you discipline or counseling, then we’ve created a fact question for a jury regarding whether the reason given by the employer is the real reason for termination, or just a pretextual reason designed to mask unlawful discrimination.
Second, we can prove that the reason given by the employer isn’t the real reason for termination because it wasn’t equally applied to similarly situated employees. So, if the employer claims that it terminated you for poor performance, but the your peers actually had equal or worse performance reviews than you – or documented performance problems that you didn’t have – than we’ve created a fact issue regarding whether the employer’s stated reason for termination is the actual reason, or just a pretextual reason designed to mask unlawful discrimination.
How Much is My Wrongful Termination Case Worth?
This is absolutely a good question to ask as you make a decision on whether to pursue a case in court or not. Starting an employment case is a big decision and you should know what your potential return is for the investment of your time and energy.
The short answer is that the value of your case depends on a lot of things, like: the strength of your case on the merits; the amount of damages you’ve suffered; whether your employer has the ability to pay a large amount; and your tolerance for risk.
We get this question so much that we’ve created a separate, detailed page going through each of these factors, right here. Check it out – it will give you a good idea of what to expect when we talk about your case at your free consultation.
For wrongful termination claims based on discrimination, you may be entitled to back pay and front pay damages, emotional distress compensation, treble damages under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, punitive damages under both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII, and your attorney fees and costs. You may even be entitled to get your job back.
For workers compensation retaliation actions, Minnesota allows plaintiffs to recover back and front pay damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees and hard costs.
Under the Family Medical Leave Act, plaintiff employees may recover lost back pay and front pay, plus an email amount as liquidated damages, in addition to your attorney fees and costs.
What’s an Average Settlement for a Wrongful Termination Case?
That’s a tough question to answer because there’s really no “average” settlement. The value of a wrongful termination case depends on the strength of the case; the damages the employee suffered; the ability of the employer to pay a large amount (if the employer is insured, even better); and the employee’s tolerance for risk and willingness to go to trial. Here’s a detailed breakdown of those factors.
But we know that many wrongfully terminated employees looking for answers right now just want to see some numbers from actual settlements, so here are some numbers. You’ll note that oftentimes, the larger an employee’s tolerance for risk and the farther the employee went in the process, the more valuable the case.
- We represented a maintenance worker who sued his employer for wrongful termination in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. The merits of the case were relatively strong and the employer was a large company. However, the employee’s damages were pretty limited because he found a better paying job shortly after his termination. Also, the employee didn’t have a high tolerance for risk and wanted to settle early if we got a fair offer. The case settled after just one deposition for $35,000.
- We represented an office employee in an age discrimination case against her former employer. The strength of her case was ok, but we did a good job through discovery building up fact issues to survive summary judgment. The employee had greater tolerance for risk than the maintenance worker from the previous example – she was fine taking the case through summary judgment. After we beat her employer’s motion for summary judgment, the case settled for $185,000.
- We sued a large employer – a fortune 100 company – for disability discrimination on behalf of a longtime maintenance worker. This case had every ingredient for a high settlement: the employee had a strong case; she had large damages as she’d worked there for 15 years; the company was large; and the employee had a high tolerance for risk. We litigated for nearly 2 years. Right before trial, the company paid $400,000 to settle the case.
- We represented a physician who sued his former clinic for disability discrimination and breach of fiduciary duty (he had an employment contract with the clinic). This employee had a very high tolerance for risk – he wanted to go all the way through trial. So we did – in exchange for accepting the risk of trial, he got a great verdict: the jury awarded nearly $1.3 million for his case.
Please note that just because these employees received the above results doesn’t mean that’s what your case is worth. These are just examples. Your case value depends on a number of things that we’ll talk about during your consultation.
What Should I do if I’ve been Wrongfully Terminated?
First of all, if you’re searching for answers right now after losing your job, we’re very sorry that you’re in this position. We know how tough it is to lose your job, especially when you’ve got family and other financial obligations. It’s especially frustrating when the termination is wrongful, illegal, and unfair.
Second, make sure that take advantage of state benefits designed to help people going through tough times. Apply for unemployment benefits – here’s a link. And, contact COBRA to make sure you and your family are covered for health insurance.
Third, write everything down that happened to you. Write down the date that you were terminated, who terminated you, what they precisely said was the reason for your termination, and who else was present. Write down whether you think the reason your employer gave you was accurate or not, and why. Write down the names of employees that you think may have useful information. Write down the types of documents or emails that you think may have good information about your case. Write down everything – the reason for this is that your memory will probably fade over time and you want to document things while they’re fresh in your mind. If you pursue a lawsuit, your trial likely won’t be for at least 12 to 18 months, so you want to have something that you can refer to – write everything down.
Fourth, immediately send a letter or email request to your employer requesting your personnel file and the reason for your termination. Under Minnesota law, your employer needs to provide it to you. If your employer hasn’t paid you all of your wages or given you your last paycheck, make sure to request those wages in writing also (by letter or email).
Fifth, call us for a free consultation to talk about your case.
Contact Our Minnesota and Wisconsin Employment and Wrongful Termination Attorneys for a Free Consultation.
All consultations are free. During your consultation, we’ll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case, the potential value of your case (e.g. how much your case is worth), and the best way to proceed.
There’s some information that we’ll need when you call, so if possible, please have it handy, including: who did you work for what did you do how long did you work there how much did you earn when were you terminated what was the reason given by your employer for your termination and why do you think the termination was unlawful or wrongful. If you have this information handy, it will allow us to proceed to the heart of your case very quickly and give you good legal advice.
The process for a free consultation with our employment lawyers is pretty simple. First, call our firm at 612.349.2723. You’ll talk to our legal assistant, Sara, for about 5-10 minutes. She’ll get some basic information about you and your case.
About 3 or 4 hours later, you’ll get a call from us. If you’ve got a case that’s a little outside our wheelhouse, then Sara will call you and give you a referral for an attorney that we think is better suited to handle your case. Our number one goal is to make sure you get the best representation possible for your particular matter – if that’s not us, we’ll tell you immediately and get you to someone else that we trust.
If we think that we can help you, then Sara will call you and set an appointment for you to talk to one of our employment lawyers. We’ll call you at time that works for you and discuss your case and give you our honest assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, and value. We’ll then set a time where you can come to our office and meet your employment lawyer personally – at that time, we’ll discuss your case in more detail, sign a contingency fee retainer agreement, and talk about the process of moving forward with your case.
When you come in to meet your employment lawyer, please bring all relevant documents that you want us to look at, including: pay-stubs personnel file (if you have it) employment handbook (if you have it) any letters from your employer, including your termination letter any text messages or emails that you think are important and any other documents that you think might be helpful.