Previously, the term “good faith” had not been defined in the MWA. The courts, including Minnesota’s Supreme Court, provided their own judicially created definitions of these terms as these cases came before them. Many of these judicially created definitions significantly limited the scope of employee protection provided by the MWA. Specifically, the Minnesota Supreme Court previously held that in order to be in good faith, an employee’s report had to be made “with the purpose of blowing the whistle.” Subsequent judicial decisions stated that people who had legal compliance jobs could not make a claim under the MWA because the real motivation in making any report was it was a part of their job duties. These decisions exempted a large classes of employees and conduct from protection.
The 2013 amendments to the MWA provided clear definitions for a number of these terms, including “good faith,” and were intended to abrogate the prior judicial definitions. For example, a “good faith” was now defined by the amendments to mean a report that was not “knowingly false or in reckless disregard of the truth.”
Employers, however, argued that these new definitions simply “clarified” or “supplemented” the prior judicial definitions. Chaos ensued as courts tried to determine whether these new statutory definitions replaced the prior court created definitions.
In a victory for the hard working people at the Office of the Revisor of Statutes and statutory construction theorists everywhere, the Court held that when the legislature enacts new statutory language, it typically means to change the law. Or in other words, if the Court were to interpret the term “good faith” to simply mean what it did prior to the amendment, it would have rendered the legislature’s addition of the definition meaningless. And it is well established that when the legislature enacts some change in the statutes, courts are to presume it meant to change the law.
What this means in practice is that many more employees in Minnesota will be covered by the protections of the MWA. It also means that the fight in these cases will no longer be about whether the employee has any protection under the MWA, but whether an employer’s adverse employment action was motivated by the employee’s good faith report. The bottom line is this is great news for Minnesota employees.