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An overview of “minor” employment claims in Minnesota

A recent decision by Federal District Court Judge David Doty in Laitinen v. Per Mar Security provides an excellent overview of some of the less common claims that can arise in employment disputes.

Laitinen was a general manager for Per Mar. He was fired for allegedly falsifying training certificates. Laitinen vigorously disputed this allegation and sued in response. His Complaint included five separate state-law claims. Per Mar moved to dismiss each for failure to state a claim under Rule 12.

Unpaid Commissions: Laitinen alleged that he was not paid commissions in violation of Minn. Stat. § 181.145. Per Mar correctly pointed out that that statute only applies to independent contractors, not employees. Laitinen should have sued under § 181.13.

Defamation: Laitinen’s boss allegedly told a former employee at a restaurant that he was going to terminate Laitinen for falsifying training certificates, which Laitinen maintains is untruthful. Because the allegedly untrue statement was made to a former employee at a public restaurant, it had no proper purpose and thus was not protected by any qualified immunity.

Breach of Contract: Laitinen alleged that the employee handbook created a unilateral contract, and that Per Mar breached it because it did not give him three written counseling reports before firing him as required. An employee handbook can create an employment contract if its terms are definite, they are communicated to the employee, the offer is accepted, and consideration is provided. (Most employers avoid these claims by including explicit contract disclaimer language in their handbooks; it’s not clear whether Per Mar’s had such language.) Here, the “meager” facts in the complaint, when viewed with “judicial experience and common sense”, were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.

Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: There is no such implied covenant in employment contracts under Minnesota law.

Unjust Enrichment: Laitinen claimed that Per Mar was unjustly enriched because it did not compensate him for new customers that he acquired. This requires a showing that Per Mar “knowingly received something of value to which [it] was not entitled, and that the circumstances are such that it would be unjust for [it] to retain the benefit.” Because it is an equitable doctrine, however, no recovery is permitted where there is an adequate remedy at law. As Laitinen has a remedy under Minn. Stat. § 181.13, this claim was dismissed.

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