Imposing an extended paid leave on an employee can constitute retaliation under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, the state Court of Appeals ruled Monday in a case where a police officer was kept on leave for nine months.
New Brighton Sgt. Steven Moore filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city, alleging his managers launched two misconduct investigations against him shortly after he filed a union grievance challenging the city’s failure to pay him for overtime work.
Moore was placed on leave for nine months, which according to the appellate court ruling was “seven months longer than the city took to complete its investigations and issue a five-day suspension for one allegation and exonerate the sergeant as to the other.”
While Moore was on leave, the city ordered him to remain at home from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. He also was barred from discussing the investigation with anyone.
When he returned to work, Moore was given an “unfavorable” administrative job and a poor performance review.
“The undisputed facts and the disputed facts construed in Moore’s favor could support a finding that the city treated Moore in a manner that penalized him and would dissuade a reasonable employee from engaging in conduct protected by the Minnesota Whistleblower Act,” Appeals Judge Kevin Ross wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel that decided the case.
The appellate court ruling has the effect of restoring Moore’s lawsuit, which had been dismissed by a Ramsey County district judge.
“First and foremost, we are ecstatic for Sergeant Moore,” said his attorney, Lucas Kaster. “He has been through a lot and experienced a lot. His claims deserve to be heard by a jury.”
Moreover, Kaster said, “the decision is a great win for all workers across Minnesota. It affirms the broad protection of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. It puts employers on notice that unlawful retaliation includes a broad range of employment decisions, not just termination.”
Officials for New Brighton, which was represented in the case by the Minnesota League of Cities, did not return a call or e-mail seeking comment.
Moore is still employed with the New Brighton police, his attorney said.