BTJW Trial Victory: Whistleblower Wins Against Dakota County

October 11, 2019 - Yesterday, a Dakota County jury returned a verdict in favor of a former Dakota County Jail employee, who was forced to resign after she reported an inappropriate relationship between a counselor and a patient. The verdict was read on October 10, 2019. The jury awarded the plaintiff, Brooke Johnson, over $200,000 in damages, including wage and benefit loss and emotional distress damages. “This is a great result for an employee who followed the law and was retaliated against for doing so. Further, it reinforces the rights and protection employees have under Minnesota whistleblower law,” said Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, partner at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP and one of the attorneys representing Ms. Johnson. 

In the matter of Brooke Johnson v. Dakota County, No. 19HA-CV-19-73, the plaintiff-employee, Brooke Johnson, was a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (“LADC”) at Dakota County’s Jail Treatment Program (“JPT”). While meeting with a client, Ms. Johnson learned of a sexual relationship between another LADC and a client, which Ms. Johnson knew to be in violation of client welfare provisions under Minnesota law and must be reported to the Minnesota Board of Behavioral Health and Therapy (“BBHT”).

In the days that followed, Ms. Johnson made repeated reports about the inappropriate relationship and its legal implications to management. Rather than address the matter, her supervisor warned her not to discuss the matter or report it to the BBHT. Despite the fear of retaliation, Ms. Johnson felt bound by her professional duty and told her supervisor that she would be filing a formal complaint about the relationship to the BBHT. Days later, Ms. Johnson’s supervisor met with her, warned her about performance issues and told that she could either resign immediately or she would be terminated immediately. Further, her supervisor warned her that if she was terminated she would be unlikely to find future employment in her field. Ms. Johnson felt she had no choice but to resign.

The Minnesota Whistleblower Act, Minn. Stat. Sec. 181.932, protects employees from whistleblower retaliation by their employer if they report, or refuse to engage in, illegal conduct. The Whistleblower Act protects all employees in Minnesota and applies to all employers with one or more employees. Here, the jury found that Ms. Johnson made a report, that the employer’s actions were retaliatory, that Ms. Johnson's report was a motivating factor in its decision to end her employment, and that Dakota County was liable for damages. Ms. Johnson was represented by firm atorneys Kaarin Nelson Schaffer and Dustin Massie.

Kaarin Nelson Schaffer is a partner at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP and a driven advocate for employee rights. Nelson Schaffer represents employees facing discrimination, harassment, retaliation and other forms of unlawful workplace conduct by employers and has litigated many cases through trial. She has been named to the lists of Minnesota Super Lawyers and Rising Stars and regularly presents at conferences on employment law matters.

Dustin Massie represents employees who have experienced discrimination, retaliation, harassment and other forms of unlawful treatment in the workplace. He was named a 2018 Up-and-Coming Attorney by Minnesota Lawyer and made the list of Minnesota Rising Stars in 2017, 2018 and 2019.