This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Robert A. Ries,
SEI Electronics LLC, et al.,
Filed July 11, 2000
Winona County District Court
File No. C499165
Robert A. Ries, 76 Fremont Court, Winona, MN 55987 (pro se appellant)
Robert L. Bach, Katherine A. Jones, Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon & Vogt, P.A., 601 Second Avenue South, Suite 4200, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of his former employer, contending there were factual questions as to whether his employment was at will, whether his termination was in bad faith, and whether his termination violated public policy. Additionally, appellant asserts the district court erred in denying his motion to compel discovery. We affirm.
In July 1997, respondent SEI Electronics (SEI) hired appellant Robert Ries as a purchasing manager, a salaried position. Although SEI had published an employment handbook for hourly employees, it did not issue one for salaried employees, and Ries acknowledges that the company did not issue the hourly employees’ handbook to him.
In February 1998, SEI fired Ries for unsatisfactory performance, and he sued for wrongful discharge. SEI moved for summary judgment and Ries filed a motion to compel discovery. The district court granted summary judgment for SEI and found Ries’s motion to compel discovery moot.
D E C I S I O N
When reviewing appeals from summary judgment, an appellate court must determine “(1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the lower courts erred in their application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). The party opposing summary judgment “may not rest upon mere averments or denials of the adverse party’s pleading but must present specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.05. Questions of law are reviewed de novo. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
Ries argues that the hourly employee handbook created a unilateral employment contract, overriding his at-will employment status. He contends SEI wrongfully discharged him because it failed to follow the disciplinary steps set out in the handbook.
Employees in Minnesota may be dismissed at will, absent a contract requiring cause. Cederstrand v. Lutheran Bhd., 263 Minn. 520, 532, 117 N.W.2d 213, 221 (1962). Such a unilateral contract may be formed through the provisions of an employee manual. Pine River State Bank v. Mettille, 333 N.W.2d 622, 629-30 (Minn. 1983). Disclaimers, however, may prevent employees from claiming contractual rights. Feges v. Perkins Restaurants, Inc., 483 N.W.2d 701, 708 (Minn. 1992).
It is undisputed that the handbook on its face applied to hourly workers, that Ries was not an hourly employee but a salaried employee, and that the company did not give the manual to Ries. Further, as the district court found, two disclaimers explicitly precluded consideration of Ries as anything but an at-will employee. Under the undisputed facts, Ries was an at-will employee who could be dismissed at will.
Next, Ries contends that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of SEI on his claim that he was terminated in bad faith. He relies on a New Hampshire case, which states:
[A] termination * * * of a contract of employment at will which is motivated by bad faith or malice constitutes a breach of the employment contract.
Monge v. Beebe Rubber Co., 316 A.2d 549, 551-52 (N.H. 1974) (upholding jury verdict that defendant acted maliciously in firing plaintiff, based on the plaintiff’s rejection of foreman’s overtures, capricious firing, apparent manipulation of job assignments, and personnel manager’s connivance). But, Minnesota courts have declined to read an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing into employment contracts. Hunt v. IBM Mid Am. Employees Fed. Credit Union, 384 N.W.2d 853, 858 (Minn. 1986). Under the facts of this case, Ries does not assert a cause of action recognized in Minnesota.
Ries also argues that the district court improperly granted summary judgment on his claim that he was fired in violation of public policy. This court first recognized that an at-will employee has a cause of action for wrongful discharge in a case in which the employer terminated the employee for his alleged refusal to violate a law. Phipps v. Clark Oil & Refining Corp., 396 N.W.2d 588, 592 (Minn. App. 1986), aff’d 408 N.W.2d 569 (Minn. 1987). While the employer’s petition for review was pending, the legislature enacted the whistleblower statute, Minn. Stat. § 181.932 (Supp. 1987), which prohibited an employer from firing employees for enumerated public policy reasons. 1987 Minn. Laws ch. 76, § 2. The Minnesota Supreme Court then affirmed. Phipps, 408 N.W.2d at 571; see also Hedglin v. City of Willmar, 582 N.W.2d 897, 901 (Minn. 1998) (noting that supreme court did not decide in Phippswhether Minnesota recognized a common-law cause of action for wrongful discharge).
Ries does not, however, allege that he was discharged after refusing to violate a law, as the employee in Phipps alleged. Phipps, 396 N.W.2d at 592. Even if a common-law cause of action under Phipps remains, Ries has not shown that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether it applies.
Finally, Ries challenges the district court’s ruling that his motion to compel discovery was moot because it would yield nothing to forestall summary judgment. Ries contends that the discovery motion was necessary to determine whether respondents paid wages to an employee for approximately four months while she was allegedly working as a volunteer.
The district court’s ruling on a discovery request will not be reversed unless it abused its discretion. Erickson v. MacArthur, 414 N.W.2d 406, 407 (Minn. 1987); see also Cherne Contracting Corp. v. Wausau Ins. Cos., 572 N.W.2d 339, 345-46 (Minn. App. 1997) (holding district court has discretion in deciding whether to allow continuance of summary judgment for further discovery under Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.06), review denied (Minn. Feb. 19, 1998). Ries has not shown that the facts that he seeks to obtain through discovery would be relevant. Accordingly, we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Ries’s motion to compel discovery.