A Rochester whistleblower case appears to be headed toward a spring or summer jury trial.
The civil lawsuit was filed by Suzie Christenson in June, approximately seven months after she was fired from her position as executive director of Rochester’s Women’s Shelter and Support Center.
“We claim she was a whistleblower. They will presumably claim she was terminated for other reasons, and we will have to refute that,” said Christenson’s attorney. Marshall Tanick, of the Minneapolis law firm Meyer Njus Tanick.
The Women’s Shelter’s attorney, Bill Celebrezze of the Minneapolis law firm Goetz & Eckland, said in a statement, “The Women’s Shelter Inc. Board of Directors believes the lawsuit is without merit, and plans to defend it.”
Last week, Third Judicial District Court Judge Jacob Allen denied a request to dismiss the case, ruling Christenson’s claim deserves a chance to be heard.
The case stems from Christenson’s dismissal from running the Women’s Shelter in November.
At the time, a local media outlet reported Kelly Classic, who was the Women’s Shelter Board chairwoman, said the termination followed a unanimous board decision to “move the organization in a new direction.”
Classic is now listed as interim executive director on the shelter’s website, but did not return a call for additional information.
In her complaint, Christenson states she believes her firing was connected to a discussion she had with the Women’s Shelter’s local attorney, in which she said the board violated the organization’s bylaws in trumping her hiring authority. That conversation reportedly occurred in early November.
“The timing here is certainly suspicious,” Tanick said. “She raised these issues within days she was terminated.”
Minnesota’s Whistleblower Act protects employees from retaliation by their employer as a result of reporting illegal conduct.
Court records indicate the Women’s Shelter board contends the firing was not related to Christenson’s complaint.
In a letter sent to the judge this week, Celebrezze said steps had been taken by the board a year earlier to change hiring practices, but the official bylaws had not been changed.
In the same letter, he noted, “this issue is not central to my client’s defenses to the merits of plaintiff's claims.”
With Allen’s denial of the request to dismiss the case, the attorneys are expected to prepare a schedule for moving toward a jury trial.
Tanick said Christenson isn’t seeking reinstatement to her former position but is seeking to recover for financial damages related to being fired.