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Brendan Cummins (left) and Justin Cummins, Cummins & Cummins, LLP
Brendan Cummins (left) and Justin Cummins, Cummins & Cummins, LLP

The POWER 30: Brendan D. Cummins and Justin Cummins

Employment law in Minnesota has been marked recently by more robust federal agency enforcement, including the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board.

It has been affected by an explosion in social matters that have brought around a shift in attitudes and enforcement, exemplified by the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, said Minneapolis employment attorneys Justin Cummins and Brendan Cummins of Cummins & Cummins.

But Minnesota courts have enforced the Minnesota Human Rights Act and other laws strongly to protect employees.

Justin points to Kenneh v. Homeward Bound, where the Supreme Court in 2020 specifically referred to the MHRA and instructed courts to evaluate dispositive motions by considering the totality of the circumstances. It said that state claims need not be governed by federal caselaw.

Other Minnesota decisions have been favorable to employees. Justin also pointed to Hall v. City of Plainview, 2021, which found that an employee handbook contract disclaimer was ambiguous.

Further, in Madison Equities v. Office of the Attorney General, also in 2021, the Supreme Court upheld workers’ rights to information per the wage theft unit created by Attorney General Keith Ellison under Minn. Stat. sec. 8.31. It is the strongest wage theft law in the country, Justin said.

Brendan Cummins said that the National Labor Relations Board under President Joe Biden is in a process of developing new standards to protect workers’ rights to advocate, also through the definition of independent contractors, who are not within the NLRB’s purview.  It has requested briefing on the issue, he said.

Another initiative is to strengthen protection of organizing drives, Brendan said. On February 1, National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo announced an initiative to seek injunctions under Section 10 (j) of the National Labor Relations Act in cases where workers have been subject to threats or other coercive conduct during an organizing campaign.

Brendan agrees that the pandemic and changing social attitudes are driving employees to seek change. Respect is a part of every organizing campaign, especially where safety issues arise, Brendan said. There’s a greater consciousness now that “we’re all in this together,” and employees are bargaining about and in the public interest, he said.