• January 1, 2020

Last October, we posted about the case of Ms. Meagan Abel. Ms. Abel alleges that she suffered employment discrimination, education discrimination, public-accommodations discrimination, reprisal, and negligence at the hands of Dr. Jeffrey Gottlieb, PhD, a clinical psychologist and training director. Among others, Ms. Abel sued the hospital (Allina Health System b/b/a Abbott Northwestern Hospital and the educational facility (St. Mary’s University of Minnesota) where Ms. Abel was working and training.

[Disclaimer: Although we post a picture of Mr. Harvey Weinstein, we emphatically do not mean to draw any parallel between him and Dr. Gottlieb. The allegations against each are radically dissimilar (see here at pp. 2-7). The allegations against Mr. Weinstein are obviously far more extreme and severe than those leveled against Dr. Gottlieb. The allegations against Dr. Gottlieb, at this time, are, of course, only allegations and there have been no factual findings in the case against him. We merely offer up Mr. Weinstein’s mug as an illustration for this post because he is “the face” of the scourge of powerful-male-abuse-of-women and such a claim (emphasis on “claim”) is being made against Dr. Gottlieb.]

The Court of Appeals held that Ms. Abel’s lawsuit against the defendants was time-barred (and that she failed to plead negligence claims and thus waived them).

Ms. Abel’s lawyers sought and were granted permission to appeal Ms. Abel’s Court of Appeals loss to the Minnesota Supreme Court last month.

[Ms. Abel’s] petition present[ed] three specific legal issues. First, whether
maintaining a discriminatory practice or policy is a “discriminatory practice” within the continuing violations doctrine under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). The court of appeals held that “merely” maintaining a discriminatory practice does constitute a present violation of the MHRA.

Second, whether students engaged in unpaid internships as a required part of their educations are protected from discrimination under the MHRA. The court of appeals did not reach this issue and left in place the district court’s conclusion that unpaid interns are unprotected under Minnesota law.

And third, whether such students can bring negligence claims against their educational institutions or their employers. The court of appeals concluded they cannot.

It’s funny. If one reads the Court of Appeals decision, it seems only vaguely related to Ms. Abel’s petition to the Supreme Court.

Respondent Abbott Northwestern made this point up front in its opposition to Ms. Abel’s petition. “This is not the case that Petitioner…portrays it to be. The Minnesota Court of Appeals correctly applied the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s (“MHRA’s”) one-year statute of limitations.”

Respondent St. Mary made similar points in its opposition to Ms. Abel’s petition.

To no avail.

We will be interested to learn, if we can, why the Minnesota Supreme Court decided to take this case, to learn what issue(s) drew the Court’s attention. In our view, the defendants’ arguments against plaintiff’s “continuing violation” argument, her “intern as employee” argument, and her waiver arguments, were persuasive. Maybe Judge Klaphake’s dissent (here at p. 18 of the PDF) gives the best road-map for the issue that got the Supreme Court’s attention.

As we read Judge Klaphake’s dissent, his point is that if unlawful conduct occurred, say, during Time Period X (that is, outside the one-year statute of limitation) but the Employer passively countenanced the unlawful conduct for Time Period X plus one day (one year and a day, within the statute of limitation) then the Employer’s passivity is a “continuing violation” of the Minnesota Human Rights Act bringing the employee’s claim within the statute of limitation. Such a ruling could dramatically extend the statute of limitation, it seems to us.