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Matthew Pelikan
Matthew Pelikan

2021 Attorneys of the Year: Matthew Pelikan

Matthew Pelikan’s professional path has always been about public service. Early in his career, he worked on political campaigns including those for Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton. “I believe in supporting strong public policy and trying to make sure our political and legal system is helping people,” he said.

As an attorney, Pelikan, a partner at Madel PA, has made an impact on the legal system, helping victims of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. His recent case, Abel v. Abbott Northwestern Hospital, et al., set a precedent by broadening the Minnesota Human Rights Act to protect unpaid interns in the workplace for the first time.

Meagan Abel was a doctoral student at St. Mary’s University who alleges she experienced ongoing racial discrimination and inappropriate sexual conduct while interning at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Dr. Kim Finch, a psychologist at Abbott at the time, tried to expose the misconduct against Abel. She alleged that she faced retaliation and was forced out of her job.

Pelikan filed lawsuits on behalf of Abel and Finch. The district court dismissed all of Abel’s claims and some of Finch’s (the cases were then severed to be tried separately).

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of Abel’s case. One reason was that the Minnesota Human Rights Act didn’t protect Abel because she was not a paid employee.

Pelikan argued the case before the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in Abel’s favor. “The Minnesota Supreme Court made clear that you are protected from discrimination and harassment in a workplace even if you are not paid,” said Pelikan.

Finch’s reprisal claim, which has been resolved by mutual agreement, also set new standards. The Court of Appeals recognized that a plaintiff’s statements are evidence and that the full context of harassing incidents matters.

“Clients want accountability and justice for themselves and others,” Pelikan says. “That goes to why I took the case. I believe in justice in our society and a level playing field for everyone.”

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2021 here.

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