Minnesota Supreme Court Confirms Expansion of Minnesota Whistleblower Act | Attorney Aaron Hall

Minnesota Supreme Court Confirms Expansion of Minnesota Whistleblower Act

In 1987, the Minnesota Legislature enacted the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (MWA) which prohibited employers from retaliating against employees who making a good faith report of any federal or state law or rule adopted pursuant to law. Minnesota courts historically have interpreted the term “good faith” narrowly, requiring that an employee’s good faith report be for the purpose of exposing an illegality.

In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature amended the MWA in several respects, one of which was to clarify that the term “good faith” means that employees cannot “make statements or disclosures knowing that they are false or that they are in reckless disregard of the truth.”  Following the enactment of the amendments, there remained debate as to whether the amendment altered the interpretation that an employee’s good faith report must be for the purpose of exposing an illegality. Most courts held that the purpose of exposing an illegality requirement remained.

The Minnesota Supreme Court put that issue to rest on August 9, 2017, with its decision in Friedlander v. Edwards Life Sciences, LLC. The court held that the 2013 amendment to the MWA “eliminated the judicially created requirement that a putative whistleblower act with the purpose of exposing an illegality.”

What this means is that any good faith report made by an employee is protected conduct under the MWA. In other words, if an employee proves that he or she was terminated or otherwise disciplined for reporting a violation of state or federal law, the employee’s intent in making a report is irrelevant as long as the report was not knowingly false report or made in reckless disregard of the truth.

Plaintiffs’ employment counsel are lauding the Friedlander decision as a victory, which is surely is. However, it is worth remembering that a plaintiff employee still has the ultimate burden of proof that the employee was terminated or disciplined for making the report. If an employer demonstrates, usually through good documentation, that a termination or disciplinary decision was made for legitimate business reasons, not retaliation, that will carry the day.