No Whistle Blower Act claim for general counsel who was fulfilling job responsibilities.

Kidwell v. Sybaritic, Inc., 784 N.W.2d 220 (Minn. 2010)

Type of Case: Employment Law

Practice Area(s): Employment

Lawyer(s): Margaret (Molly) R. Ryan Katherine A. McBride Bradley J. Lindeman

Office(s): Minneapolis

Minnesota’s Supreme Court has addressed the high-profile issue whether in-house lawyers have Whistleblower Act protection. Plaintiff was former general counsel to Sybaritic, and his job responsibilities included management of the company’s litigation. He asserted a claim under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, arguing that he was terminated for sending an e-mail alleging, without evidence, that someone in management was concealing certain discovery documents in a pending intellectual-property case. The trial jury found in Plaintiff’s favor. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the Plaintiff did not engage in protected conduct within the meaning of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, as he was merely performing his job duties. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision, finding that while there is no job-duty defense as a matter of law, the undisputed facts presented at trial did not support the jury’s verdict, as there was no evidence that Plaintiff was engaging in any conduct other than fulfilling his job responsibilities and because his purpose in sending the email was not to “expose” an illegality. The court held that to be protected, an employee must be acting outside the normal channels of the position held. A concurrence reasoned that Plaintiff’s claim for wrongful termination under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act was barred because at trial, Plaintiff was found to have breached his fiduciary duties to the company by sending that email to someone outside the company.

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