The Minnesota Supreme Court recently determined that claims alleging wrongful termination under the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace statute are subject to a six-year statute of limitations in Sipe v. STS Manufacturing, Inc., No. A11-2082 (Minn. July 31, 2013). Mr. Sipe had alleged that he was improperly terminated for a first positive drug test without being offered an opportunity for rehabilitation or counseling pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 181.953, subd. 10. He did not commence his lawsuit until nearly three years later.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals previously held that Mr. Sipe’s claim was subject to a two-year statute of limitations under Minn. Stat. § 541.07(1) and dismissed his lawsuit. The Court of Appeals determined that Mr. Sipe’s wrongful discharge claim constituted an “other tort resulting in personal injury” bringing it within the two-year limitations period. The Minnesota Supreme Court, however, held that such “other torts” were limited to common law claims and did not include statutory claims, such as that created by the Minnesota drug testing law. As a result, the Court held that Mr. Sipe’s claim was subject to the six-year limitations period applicable to “liability created by statute.” Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(2).
Takeaway: Prior to taking a discharge action, Minnesota employers should be mindful of their statutory obligations, including the obligation to offer rehabilitation or counseling to employees who test positive for drugs for the first time. If an employer instead fires the employee without making such an offer, the employee has a full six years to bring a claim under Minnesota’s drug testing law.