“To me, plaintiffs’ attorneys are like civil prosecutors,” Bertelson said. “Someone needs to pursue these claims,” and she does, along with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where federal law including Title VII is enforced, and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
Bertelson represented plaintiffs in the important case Peterson v. Seagate, a Minnesota-venued federal class action involving reductions in force that disparately affected older employees. They had signed waivers of their claims, but those waivers were found to be invalid. The case settled but not before Bertelson discovered how meaningful it was to represent older employees who had worked for the company for a long time. “I so admired the long-term employees. You could see how important their work was, and how hurt they were. You can feel the devastation and depression of the long-term employee,” Bertelson said.
Depression and anxiety are important issues to employees right now, Bertelson said. She thinks the pandemic could be a trigger or is exacerbating employees’ mental health issues. The task for employers is to work through these issues with employees in order to maintain those who need accommodation, she said. Some accommodations include leaves of absence, part-time schedules, delayed starts and time off, she said.
Bertelson maintains a mediation practice and finds that employers are concerned about equity among employees, and employees are more observant of their conditions and may be demanding. “They are more willing to vocalize, and mediation is a good way to do that,” she said.
Many employees want something in addition to money, Bertelson said. They are suffering from anxiety and want to be appreciated, she said.
Bertelson also represents plaintiffs in cases of disability and gender discrimination. She works out accommodation issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act that allow disabled employees to keep working, although she thinks employers are still letting go of older employees.
In 2021, Bertelson and colleague Andrea Ostapowich resolved a significant, while confidential, matter involving gender equity issues, Bertelson said.