State attorneys general step up and expand enforcement efforts

In multiple ways since January 2017, as has been discussed here previously, the politically appointed leadership at the United States Department of Labor, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and the United States Department of Justice have rolled back workplace protections and otherwise have withdrawn from the traditional enforcement of workplace fairness laws. The Trump Administration’s retreat from longstanding policy and practice regarding the rule of law has been as striking as it has been harmful – particularly while the pandemic continues, if not worsens.

In the face of this dereliction of duty at the Federal level, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and the attorneys general of numerous other States have stepped into the breach and provided vision and exercised leadership to tackle the escalating challenges facing the nation. Ten jurisdictions, including Minnesota, now have dedicated worker rights units to address, for example, wage theft, noncompete agreements, no-poach/no-hire agreements, employee misclassification in the gig economy, and joint employment issues as well as more traditional problems with retaliation, harassment, discrimination, and workplace safety. In addition, State attorneys general are increasingly issuing opinion letters and reports about high-profile matters, drafting and providing testimony in support of legislation with both local and national significance, preparing and filing amicus briefs in State and Federal courts, and prosecuting civil as well as criminal violations of statutes, regulations, and/or rules that govern the workplace. These State attorneys general also have sued the United States and its agencies to challenge the rollback of workplace protections by the Trump Administration.