This article is a history of the emergence of employment law as a separate discipline within the legal profession from the early 1980s through the end of the century. The article emphasizes developments in Minnesota.
The roots of employment law lie in the civil rights movement, not that of organized labor. A trilogy of state supreme court cases in the early 1980s -- the decisions of the Michigan Supreme Court in "Toussaint v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan" (1980), the New York Court of Appeals in "Weiner v. McGraw-Hill, Inc." (1982), and the Minnesota Supreme Court in "Pine River State Bank v. Mettille" (1983) -- influenced supreme courts in other states to recognize challenges to the common law "at-will rule." Of these three cases, "Pine River" was the most influential, and this is demonstrated by bar graphs showing the frequency of its citation by Minnesota courts, appellate courts in sister states, and in law reviews. Its influence can also be seen in the frequency it was quoted by other courts.
By the 1990s, lawyers began to identify themselves as "employment lawyers." A legal "specialty" is characterized by the formation of professional organizations, honor societies, the publication of specialized literature and journals, and the offering of courses in law schools, all of which occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s. With the passage of the ADA (1990), the 1991 amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the FMLA (1993), employment law as a specialty within the legal profession came into being.
This article was published first at 33 William Mitchell Law Review 297-337 (2006).