Firm News

Retaliation Lawsuit Against ConAgra To Proceed

Aug 01, 2016

Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP attorneys obtained an important victory for client Chad Dufrene in his discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against his former employer ConAgra Foods, Inc. In denying ConAgra’s Motion to Dismiss, Judge Wilhelmina Wright of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota concluded that Dufrene, who had previously filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, had standing to pursue his claims on behalf of the bankruptcy estate, thereby allowing his lawsuit against ConAgra to proceed.

In September 2015, Dufrene sued ConAgra following his termination from employment, asserting violations of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. (Dufrene v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., Case No. 0:15-cv-3796-WMW-LIB.) Approximately one year before his termination, Dufrene had filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which allows individuals receiving regular income to obtain debt relief while retaining their property.

In its Motion to Dismiss, ConAgra argued Dufrene lacked standing to sue because the lawsuit was property that belonged to the trustee of the bankruptcy estate. While the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet addressed this issue, Judge Wright followed decisions from the Second, Third, Fourth, Seventh, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits, which concluded that a debtor “in possession” has standing to bring suit in the debtor’s name on behalf of the bankruptcy estate. Judge Wright held that the “unambiguous language” of Bankruptcy Code Section 1306 states that a Chapter 13 debtor “shall remain in possession of all property of the estate.” The court concluded that “possession and substantial control [of legal claims] will continue to exist unless a Chapter 13 plan or a bankruptcy court order provides otherwise,” and that no such plan or order existed in this case. As a result, Defrene’s litigation against ConAgra will proceed.

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