Lawsuits allege MINNCOR violated state whistleblower laws

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MINNCOR Industries allegedly violated the state whistleblower statute and allegedly violated the state age discrimination statute when it laid off five longtime employees, according to two lawsuits filed in Ramsey County District Court.

“To lay off one member for reporting alleged law violations and lay off four more allegedly in favor of candidates who are more than two decades younger is simply wrong,” said Executive Director Jim Monroe of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE). “These five MAPE members are longtime, highly valued employees who are very good at their jobs. Instead of rewarding their excellent performances, MINNCOR plotted and planned ways to get rid of them.”

MINNCOR, a defendant in both lawsuits, is a program of the state Department of Corrections. Joan Fabian, the commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, is named as a defendant in both lawsuits. The commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations is also named as a defendant in both lawsuits.

MAPE member Larry Williams, then a sales executive for MINNCOR, reported to the State Office of the Legislative Auditor that MINNCOR sold farm equipment valued at approximately $400,000 for approximately $10,000 to a North Dakota farm equipment dealer, according to the whistleblower lawsuit. MINNCOR allegedly sold the equipment in violation of state law relating to the disbursement and sale of state property, the lawsuit said.

Williams also reported to the legislative auditor that top MINNCOR officials were given tickets to a Minnesota Vikings football game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., according to the lawsuit.

In the fall of 2005, MINNCOR began singling out Williams for excessive scrutiny. When Williams reported the harassment, he was reprimanded and threatened with further discipline, according to the lawsuit. The information on the farm equipment sale aired on KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities and was published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. Shortly after informing MINNCOR that he had made reports on the incidents to the media and the legislative auditor, Williams was laid off.

“It was Larry Williams’ duty as a citizen of this state to report these incidents to the proper authorities,” Monroe pointed out. “We commend Larry for his courageous and heroic actions to try to prevent those who would loot the state’s very limited resources. Instead of hunting down and punishing those who caused the airing of their dirty laundry, MINNCOR should concentrate on being a good steward of the valuable resources entrusted to them by the taxpayers of Minnesota.”

MINNCOR laid off eight classified employees on May 25, according to the age discrimination lawsuit. Among the eight who were laid off were three sales executives – Laurie Otte, age 47; Joel Linker, age 54; and Lyle Thompson, age 63 – and one marketing representative — Charlotte Brass, age 58. All four have performance reviews ranging from good to excellent.

MAPE alleges in the age discrimination lawsuit that MINNCOR treated younger employees more favorably and that the ages of Otte, Linker, Brass and Thompson were factors in the decision to eliminate their jobs.

MINNCOR hired back three of the eight who had been laid off. However, MAPE alleges that the three who were hired back were encouraged to apply for the newly created project consultant and project analyst positions. MAPE also alleges in the lawsuit that despite being qualified for the project consultant and project analyst positions, Linker, Otte and Brass were not hired for the openings.

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