Minnesota Court of Appeals Rejects Private Right of Action for Termination in Retaliation for Applying for Unemployment Benefits
Dukowitz v. Hannon Security Services, No. 73-CV-10-6425 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012)
In a case decided July 9, 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance Law does not create a private right of action for retaliatory discharge. The case involved a claim by former security guard, Jane Dukowitz, against her former employer, Hannon Security Services. Ms. Dukowitz was a night security guard for Hannon’s clients until July 2008, when she accepted a temporary seasonal position with the company in order to work days instead of nights. When she accepted the position, she signed a document that said she understood that she would “take the chance of [the position] staying open.”
In December 2008, Hannon notified Dukowitz that her seasonal position was ending, and they had no more hours available for her to work. Dukowitz told Hannon that she said that she would have to apply for unemployment benefits. She claimed that upon hearing this, her supervisor turned to another supervisor and suggested that Hannon should terminate Dukowitz. Dukowitz applied for and was awarded unemployment benefits at the end of December 2008. A few months later, on March 13, 2009, Hannon terminated Dukowitz. Dukowitz sued Hannon, claiming that she was terminated in retaliation for applying for unemployment benefits. Dukowitz argued that her termination violated public policy, and that the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance Law creates an implied private right of action for retailiatory discharge.
The District Court rejected both of Dukowitz’s claims. First, the court held that Dukowitz had no claim for discharge in violation of public policy, because she had not been fired for refusing to violate a law. Second, the court rejected Dukowitz’s attempt to create an implied private right of action for violation of the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance Law. While the Unemployment Insurance law makes it a misdemeanor for employers to take various actions that may obstruct or impede an application for unemployment benefits, the statute does not allow a civil lawsuit by an employee to enforce this provision. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and noted that “the purpose of the unemployment compensations statutes is not to prevent employees from becoming unemployed, but rather to provide them with interim benefits when they do.”