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Celeste Culberth (left) and Leslie Lienemann, Culberth & Lienemann, LLP
Celeste Culberth (left) and Leslie Lienemann, Culberth & Lienemann, LLP

The POWER 30: Celeste Culberth and Leslie Lienemann

Extraordinarily strange facts led to an extraordinary verdict for Michelle Jacobson, a client of law partners Leslie Lienemann and Celeste Culberth.

In 2017, former Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan approached Michelle Jacobson, a crime analyst, and told her he was trying to restructure her position and increase her pay. He also told her he had received letters from an anonymous source called “Control Freak” who threatened Jacobson and demanded that she go to a hotel in Bemidji with Duncan.

Jacobson didn’t comply with the letter and eventually left her job and moved out of the county. Duncan resigned as well. The letters were revealed to be a hoax, and Duncan eventually confessed that he was Control Freak.

Liability was decided on summary judgment and the damages were tried to a jury. It returned a verdict of $565,000 for emotional damages and $550,000 for punitive damages against both Duncan and the county. This was one of the largest verdicts returned for emotional distress for sexual harassment under the Minnesota Human Right Acts.

Duncan admitted the extreme and outrageous conduct, which the county found to be sexual harassment.

The trial was continued twice because of the pandemic. During the five days of trial, Duncan was put on the stand where he admitted to the conduct. Lienemann confronted him at trial with a letter he allegedly wrote to Lienemann and other lawyers after he had been sued and charged criminally. When confronted, he invoked the Fifth Amendment.

Other employment cases include a number of public sector employees, Culberth said. She represented a veteran employee of Metro Transit who was injured in Iraq. Suddenly, the employer decided he could not work and take medication for pain and PTSD. The employer changed its mind about the time the employee filed a claim with the EEOC. He received an award of $95,000.

Culberth had a trial coming up in May against the Minnesota Department of Corrections under the Equal Pay Act. Culberth said there are two food service programs and women are paid on a different pay scale than men, and the state is avoiding the problem.

Courts are opening up and everybody is dealing with the backlog in creative ways, Culberth said. “A lot of people are contacting me to help mediate their cases.”

 

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