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Whistleblower wins case against Mayo Clinic

The U.S. Department of Labor has found that Mayo Clinic discriminated against a Rochester employee who made legally protected safety complaints.

Administrative Law Judge Daniel F. Solomon has ordered Mayo to reinstate James E. Seehusen to "the same seniority, status, and benefits he would have had but for (the clinic's) unlawful discrimination."

Couriers at Mayo such as Seehusen deliver U.S. mail to campus buildings, internal mail between departments, samples, X-rays and other items.

According to the judge's order, Seehusen complained to Mayo supervisors about a vehicle's safety (a broken windshield), the clinic's failure to conduct required daily inspections of certain vehicles and failure to follow a requirement that drivers get Department of Transportation medical certifications in order to "legally operate the shuttle bus."

Seehusen first complained more than two years ago. Supervisors used Mayo's four-step progressive discipline process and eventually placed him on a three-day suspension. Mayo argued the discipline would have happened regardless of the safety complaints Seehusen made.


But the judge wrote that Mayo failed to prove that.

The disciplinary documentation for the suspension included "direct evidence of discrimination" because it mentioned "inappropriate behaviors as being argumentative, and specifically, argumentative concerning the DOT requirements for the shuttle bus," according to the judge's order.

The Surface Transportation Assistance Act says an employee can not be fired, disciplined or discriminated against if the worker, or someone on that person's behalf, files a complaint about commercial vehicle safety.

Seehusen's attorney said the decision sends a message.

"I think that it provides notice to other employees that they are protected from retaliation if they blow the whistle," he said.

Clinic spokesman Bryan Anderson said Mayo can't comment about personnel issues.

"We did take immediate action to fully address the concerns raised by the employee," he said. "This ruling essentially overturned an earlier finding of no cause in this situation. We believe the U.S. Department of Labor decision represents a misinterpretation of the earlier finding, and, as a result, we will appeal."

The Secretary of Labor initially found against Seehusen. 


The judge ordered Mayo to:

• Reinstate Seehusen at the level he would have been without the disciplinary action.

• Pay him back wages of $10,383.20 "to return the wronged employee to the position he would have been in had his employer not retaliated against him."

• Pay him $109.20 per week from Jan. 21 to Feb. 15, 2012.

• Pay him additional money until reinstated.

• Post the court decision so other employees can read it.

• Remove selected disciplinary actions from Seehusen's employee file.

Seehusen said he was indeed reinstated Monday to his previous vehicle-delivery person at Mayo, rather than the foot-delivery route he'd been working. 


"I'm very proud to work at Mayo," Seehusen told the Post-Bulletin. "I believe Mayo as a whole is a wonderful organization. They do a lot of great things and I'm one of the people behind-the-scenes that helps make that happen."

He has worked at Mayo since December of 1989. 

The law judge notes that Seehusen's concerns about failure to conduct vehicle inspections, the broken windshield and failure to require medical certifications were found to be "actual safety regulation violations by the Minnesota Department of Transportation."

"Mayo Clinic takes safety issues very seriously," Mayo's Anderson said. "We encourage our staff to come forward if they perceive any risk to the safety of our patients, visitors, or employees."

Mayo has 10 business days from the decision in order to file an appeal.

No compensatory or punitive damages were awarded.

Seehusen vs Mayo Clinic

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