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Retaliation and Whistleblower Claims against University dismissed


Judge Donovan Frank of the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis recently granted summary judgment in favor of the University of Minnesota in a case brought by Terry Teachout that raises some interesting employment law issues.

Teachout worked in the University’s Risk Management office from 1993 to 2008.  When his position was eliminated as part of a restructuring, he sued, alleging retaliation for having requested a disability accommodation and for reporting alleged violations of law. 

Judge Frank first rejected Teachout’s state law claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Minnesota Whistleblower statute based on Eleventh Amendment immunity.   That amendment bars suits in federal court against a state (as well as a subdivision of the state like UM)  by a citizen of that state.  Thus, the Court lacked jurisdiction over the state law claims.

Turning to the merits of the claims, Judge Frank also ruled against Teachout.  On his claim of retaliation under the ADA, the judge found that Teachout could not establish the required causal link between his request for accommodation (a move from a cubicle to a private office because of an anxiety disorder) and the adverse action (the elimination of his job as part of the reorganization) because the reorganization plan pre-dated his request for accommodation.  (The reorganziation had also been recommended by an outside consultant, providing further support to the U’s decision.)  In addition, Teachout could not show that the University’s explanation for eliminating his position was “pretextual” as required under the familiar McDonnell Douglas analysis.  As a result, his ADA claim was dismissed.

As to his whistleblower claim, the Court also ruled that it was barred by the Eleventh Amendment.  Even if it weren’t, however, it would still be dismissed because the “report” that Teachout made — that the University was violating the confidentiality of medical records — was part of his regular job duties.  As the Minnesota Supreme Court recently made clear in Kidwell v. Sybaritic, Inc. an employee cannot be said to have “blown the whistle” when his report is made because it is his job to investigate and report wrongdoing.  Because Teachout’s report fell within the scope of his normally assigned job duties, they are not actionable under Minnesota law.

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