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Court rules against woman fired for call to state

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: July 22, 2010 - 9:53 AM

Jolene O'Donnell (photo by Jerry Holt)

Jolene O'Donnell (photo by Jerry Holt)

After being fired from a doctor’s office last year, Jolene O’Donnell has suffered another legal setback in her effort to get unemployment benefits. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that O’Donnell was ineligible for benefits because her phone call to state insurance regulators amounted to employee misconduct.

I told the story last September of how O’Donnell lost her medical billing job at Hennepin Faculty Associates because she had called the Department of Commerce to try to resolve a dispute with an insurance company. Her supervisors worried that the call might damage the office’s relationship with the insurer, Medica. But O’Donnell said her firing violated the state’s whistleblower law.

The law as written when O'Donnell was fired says that a single violation that doesn't have a "significant adverse impact"  on the employer isn't employee misconduct. There's no evidence that O'Donnell's phone call to commerce ever damaged Hennepin Faculty Associates' relationship with Medica. But the appeals court ruled that O'Donnell's action made her supervisors believe she would do it again, and that's a significant adverse impact.

The court also notes that lawmakers have since rewritten that part of the law to remove the "adverse impact" language. Now it has much more employer-friendly language: "If the conduct for which the applicant was discharged involved only a single incident, that is an important fact that must be considered in deciding whether the conduct rises to the level of employment misconduct..."

O’Donnell said she’s “devastated” by the ruling.

Read the original story here. Read this week's court ruling here.

A look back: a muckraking journalist's murder in 1945

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: March 8, 2010 - 10:02 AM

Longtime Whistleblower readers will know that I have a passion for history. That's what prompted me to collaborate with McKenna Ewen of Ewen Media to put together a digital history project on the murder of a Minneapolis journalist, Arthur Kasherman, in 1945. A brief introduction to the case and video are on startribune.com, while rubbedout.net gives you the full story, archival photos, original documents and more about the life and death of a forgotten Whistleblower.

Benson plant agrees to tighten turkey-litter burning operation

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: January 22, 2010 - 6:01 PM

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Fibrominn, a Benson power plant, recently reached an agreement to resolve the company's alleged air-quality and permit violations, the agency announced December 21st. Alleged violations occurring since 2007, including excess emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, resulted in a $65,000 penalty.

Fibrominn, which burns primarily turkey litter to generate electricity, agreed to take corrective action including the installation of a sulfur dioxide monitor. They also have submitted plans for testing to keep the facility in legal compliance.

Read this and other MPCA news releases here.

Lender has last word in dispute over home value

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: January 18, 2010 - 11:38 AM

A St. Paul couple renovated their Highland Park home in an attempt to eliminate the need for private mortgage insurance (PMI), something required of mortgagees who don’t have enough equity in their home. They missed the mark by $8,000. Here’s how it all added up:

“My husband and I have spent about $40,000 renovating our kitchen, bathroom, floors, windows, and other small things around our house. We currently pay $167 per month towards mortgage insurance to [our lender]. In order to get PMI removed, we had to increase the value of our home by 20%.
"So, we paid $415 to [our lender] to send an appraiser out to our house (yes, [our lender] chose the appraiser). The appraiser determined that our house was worth $235,000 and we needed our house to appraise for $243,000, so we were denied cancellation of our PMI.
"One of the best house comps that was used to determine the value of our house is 4 houses down from ours. It sold for $241,000 a few months ago. It has 300 more sq ft, a patio, and a fireplace. However, it does not have a brand new kitchen with stainless steel appliances, new cabinets, and granite. It also doesn't have a brand new bathroom with custom tile, new sink, and toilet. However, our house was still valued $6,000 less than the house described above.
“The thing that is most frustrating is that what [the lender] decides is the final determination. We cannot challenge that decision.”
How could this couple have done things differently to rid themselves of PMI? Have you found yourself in a similar predicament?

Public record: EMT loses license after arson and DWI

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: January 13, 2010 - 5:22 PM

The license of a Brown County Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-B), Kari Reinhart, was revoked after she was convicted in May 2009 of arson and Driving While Impaired (DWI).

In an order made public last week, the Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board cited the following convictions as factors in its decision:
Reinhart engaged in misdemeanor DWI on July 23, 2008. She was sentenced in Brown County District Court to two years probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, with $600 stayed.
She also committed felony first-degree arson of a dwelling and gross misdemeanor DWI on October 24, 2008, the court ruled. Reinhart is currently serving a 783 day sentence and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine plus $118,589.72 in restitution.
The board stated that though Reinhart is currently incarcerated, she may apply for re-certification once all terms of her criminal probation are met.
Read the full report here.

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