Problems on the job


Whistleblower Sunday roundup, and see you next week

Monday, April 6th, 2009

My Sunday column described the bumpy course of homeownership for newlyweds Mike and Mary Gustafson, thanks to some unpleasant discoveries about their new home in Crystal. Also this weekend, I wrote about what happens to Metro Transit bus drivers when they’re caught driving drunk off-duty. It came as a surprise to me that for other traffic violations, Metro Transit has treated them no differently off-duty or on-duty – it’s up to the driver to deal with the consequences of a ticket for running a red light, speeding, etc. A Metro Transit task force convened in the wake of its alleged on-the-job drunken driving incident is likely to change that policy, I was told.

Whistleblower is off-duty this week on spring break. I’ll return on Monday, April 13. If your news tip can’t wait, call Kate Parry at (612) 673-4678 or send her an email.

Injured workers in Minnesota underpaid by $3 million, audit shows

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

From time to time, Whistleblower hears from injured workers who are unhappy with how their claims for compensation were handled. Though I haven’t yet taken on this daunting subject, I was interested to see that injured workers were shortchanged about $3 million in each of the past five years, a Legislative Auditor’s report found, although those identifiable errors accounted for less than 1 percent of the average $470 million paid out each year by insurers. (Associated Press story here). The audit of the workers’ compensation system in Minnesota identified several issues, among them:

There are fewer state inspectors who ensure employers carry workers compensation coverage, declining from the equivalent of 6.5 in 2000 to 3.5 last year.

While overall numbers of workers comp claims are falling, disputes between injured workers and insurers are rising

The alternative dispute resolution process is a confusing tangle

In response to the audit, state Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Steve Sviggum said the agency supports the following reforms:

“• To streamline the alternative dispute resolution process by expanding a Union Construction Workers’ Compensation Program and realigning the duties between the Office of Administrative Hearings and our agency.
• To allocate funding for improvements to the information technology systems.”

Should you want to make your way through the full 93-page report, click here.

Top-grossing personal injury cases of 2007

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Personal injury lawyers are either champions of the people or rapacious parasites, depending on your political persuasion. In my view, both species exist – why should trial lawyers be any different from politicians, CEOs or journalists? Nevertheless, the civil courts have undoubtedly benefited citizens in their mismatched battles with government, business and other huge institutions. When the legislative and executive branches have often been paralyzed, meaningful change has still happened via the courts.

The latest issue of Minnesota Law & Politics magazine has a list of the state’s top-grossing personal injury cases of 2007, along with a list of the lawyers and firms that represented the plaintiffs. In some cases, the plaintiffs aren’t identified, presumably because the case was settled before it was ever filed. The 37 cases are truly a litany of horrors:

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Lawsuit says Speedway chain shortchanging workers

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Speedway convenience stores are encouraging or forcing assistant managers, shift leaders, co-managers and other workers with similar titles to to work extra hours for nothing, according to a federal lawsuit (speedway.pdf) filed in Minnesota last week by two onetime employees of the 1,500-store Ohio-based chain. The lawsuit, which seeks class action status, claims that Speedway SuperAmerica LLC and its parent companies violated federal and state wage and hour laws when their assistant managers weren’t paid for “receiving work related phone calls, conducting gas price surveys and gas checks on competitor prices, covering missed shifts, responding to customer complaints, running errands, responding to store alarms, opening the store safe and resolving other store issues,” the law firms report on the lawsuit’s web site. The site quotes plaintiff Constantine Thompson, who worked at Speedway stores in Minnesota: “‘I was pressured by Speedway to work off-the-clock… Many nights I took phone calls relating to store business. I was never compensated for this work which interrupted my family life and contributed to Speedway’s successful operation.”

A Speedway spokeswoman told the Pioneer Press that the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but the web site indicates “a career with us means weekly paychecks, bonuses, great benefits, a diverse work environment and unlimited opportunities.” Speedway is a subsidiary of Marathon Oil Co. of Houston, Texas.