The Minnesota Federal District Court recently dismissed on summary judgment an employee’s claim of whistleblowing under Minn. Stat. § 181.932 for two reasons. See Pedersen v. Bio-Medical Applications of Minnesota, Civ. No. 12-2649 (D. Minn., Jan. 10, 2014). First, the court held that the employee’s complaint did not constitute a “report” under the statute. Second, the employee failed to articulate what law was implicated by the at-issue conduct.
The nurse employee claimed that she had been terminated in retaliation for informing a doctor at the clinic that a blood sample had been allegedly mishandled. As noted by the court, this conversation occurred days after the incident had already been investigated and resolved. Minnesota cases have confirmed that telling an employer about a suspected violation that it already knows about generally does not constitute a “report” under the whistleblower statute. The Minnesota legislature’s recent amendment to the statutory definition of “report” did not address or alter this point of common law.
The court also analyzed whether the employee had identified a federal or state law that was suspected of violation based on the allegedly mishandled blood sample. See Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subd. 1(1). Employers should note that effective May 24, 2013, the whistleblower statute now defines a report as concerning a suspected violation of “a statute, regulation, or common law.” The court further determined whether the alleged incident had been identified by the employee as potentially violating a health care services standard established by a professionally recognized national clinical or ethical standard. See Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subd. 1(4). The court determined that the employee had not identified any such law or ethical standard and dismissed her claim.
Takeaway: While the Minnesota legislature arguably expanded potential claims by its amendment of the whistleblower statute last year, employees must still satisfy basic burdens of proof in asserting their claims. Employers should continue to take any claim of retaliation seriously and conduct proper investigations.