This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Gregory T. Kassuelke,
Alliant Techsystems, Inc.,
a Delaware corporation, et al.,
Filed December 10, 2002
Toussaint, Chief Judge
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 9910239
Roy A. Ginsburg, David Y. Trevor, Michael Iwan, Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, Suite 1500, 50 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402-1498 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
Appellant Gregory T. Kassuelke was involuntarily terminated from his employment with respondent Alliant Techsystems, Inc. He then sued respondents, alleging reprisal discrimination, aiding and abetting discrimination, and tortious interference with prospective business relations. Because the district court correctly concluded that appellant failed to raise a genuine fact issue as to the elements of his discrimination and tortious interference claims, we affirm the court’s grant of summary judgment to respondents.
From 1988 to October 29, 1998, appellant Gregory Kassuelke worked as an engineer at the Hopkins, Minnesota plastics lab for Honeywell and its successor, respondent Alliant Techsystems, Inc. (Alliant). Alliant is a manufacturer of military munitions for the United States government, among other customers.
Prior to 1993, Kassuelke was the Senior Engineer working on the government’s “E2” armed services battle tank project. In 1991, Alliant lost to a competitor its government contract to produce the E2. Alliant then began developing the next generation project, the E3. After a brief layoff in July 1991, Kassuelke was rehired by Alliant and continued to develop the E3.
In early 1998, Alliant submitted its proposal for the government to develop the E3, and in August it won the first stage production contract. Upon winning the government contract, John Lutz, a United States government employee, began working as Alliant’s government liaison on the E3. Prior to that, he served as a liaison to another company with an E2 contract and had little or no contact or influence with Alliant or Kassuelke.
Kasseulke’s claims arise out of an incident on March 25, 1996, when Lutz and Kassuelke both attended a professional convention and boat party hosted by Fiberite, a government supplier based in California. While Kassuelke was speaking with a female Fiberite employee, Lutz approached her and made an inappropriate comment about pubic hair. The Fiberite employee was offended and later reported the incident to Fiberite. Shortly after the incident, Kassuelke received a phone call from Fiberite requesting verification of the incident, which he provided. Kassuelke and Fiberite did not communicate further about the incident. Not long after the incident, Lutz phoned the Fiberite employee and apologized. The next year, when Fiberite planned its 1997 event, its personnel department cautioned Lutz not to engage in similar conduct.
Shortly after Kassuelke received the call from Fiberite, he mentioned “something” about the incident to three colleagues at Alliant. At his deposition, Kassuelke had only a vague recollection of what he had said and to whom he had said it, but he doubted that he would have made any specific reference to John Lutz or to the specific content of Lutz’s comment to the employee. Kassuelke “completely erased” the boat incident from his memory. He never discussed it with Alliant manager and respondent Dale Fischer, Lutz, or anyone else employed by the United States government.
In 1997, Alliant moved its manufacturing of the E3 to West Virginia. Kassuelke was involved in the decision to move, helped with the transition to the new facility, and trained personnel there. The facility change eliminated Kassuelke’s duties at the Hopkins lab, and he ceased being able to produce chargeable hours. By April 1998, Kassuelke learned that he might be laid off from Alliant and, in his own words, entered a “work search mode.” In May, Alliant offered Kassuelke a position at the new facility at a lower grade, but with a higher salary. It was Kassuelke’s understanding that at the new facility he would not be working on the E3 and would be subject to layoffs. He declined both that offer and a subsequent offer in October 1998.
In about September 1998, Kassuelke’s colleague at Alliant, Stephen Price, was asked to help develop the aft seal and corrosion protection for the E3. Price asked why Kassuelke wasn’t doing it, and Craig Aakus, an Alliant employee, allegedly told him that “Lutz did not want [Kassuelke] in the E3 program.” Price also testified that he knew that Alliant moved Kassuelke from the E3 program, but he didn’t know the impetus for that move.
On October 26, 1998, Kassuelke submitted an ethics complaint to Alliant and the EEOC, claiming that his termination was a reprisal for his involvement in the 1996 investigation of Lutz’s comment on the boat. Three days later, Kassuelke’s supervisor at the time, Gary Wittmer, advised Kassuelke of his involuntary termination “due to a work force reduction.”
Kassuelke then began negotiations for employment with Hexcel, the company competing with Fiberite to produce the composite material for the E3. While Kassuelke thought he was getting positive consideration from Hexcel’s Tom Marksbury, who had no authority to hire Kassuelke, Marksbury eventually told him that no position was available.
Kassuelke filed this action on July 26, 1999, alleging reprisal discrimination, aiding and abetting in reprisal discrimination, and interference with prospective business relations. The case was removed to federal district court where the claims against Lutz and the United States were dismissed. The claims against Alliant and Fischer were remanded to the state court, where they, too, were dismissed on summary judgment.
This appeal follows.
On appeal from summary judgment, a reviewing court determines whether any genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. Wartnick v. Moss & Barnett, 490 N.W.2d 108, 112 (Minn. 1992). In doing so, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. State by Beaulieu v. City of Mounds View, 518 N.W.2d 567, 571 (Minn. 1994). A party cannot rely on speculation or general assertions to create a genuine issue of material fact. Nicollet Restoration, Inc. v. City of St. Paul, 533 N.W.2d 845, 848 (Minn. 1995). Summary judgment is appropriate when a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case. Bersch v. Rgnonti & Assocs., 584 N.W.2d 783, 786 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Dec. 15, 1998).
Kassuelke claims Alliant and Fischer committed reprisal discrimination, or aided and abetted Lutz in such discrimination, for his phone conversation with Fiberite and his ethics complaint. To establish a prima facie claim of reprisal, a claimant must demonstrate that: (1) he engaged in statutorily protected conduct; (2) an adverse employment action was taken against him; and (3) a causal connection exists between the two. Hubbard v. United Press Int’l, Inc., 330 N.W.2d 428, 444 (Minn. 1983). Assuming that Kassuelke’s conduct falls within the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 7 (2000), and that an adverse employment action was taken against him, he must still demonstrate a causal connection between the two. We agree with the district court that the record does not contain facts showing this connection.
There are no facts showing direct or circumstantial evidence of a retaliatory motive for the required “causal connection” between the protected conduct and the adverse employment action. See Dietrich v. Canadian Pacific, Ltd., 536 N.W.2d 319, 327 (Minn. 1995) (requiring a casual connection, such as employer’s knowledge of a protected activity or an adverse employment action following closely in time); cf. Thompson v. Campbell, 845 F. Supp. 665, 675 (D. Minn. 1994) (temporal connection can provide circumstantial evidence of link between conduct and reprisal). First, there is no evidence that Lutz, Fischer, or Alliant decision-makers knew of Kassuelke’s phone conversation with Fiberite. Second, Kassuelke himself acknowledges that Lutz had no influence on Alliant prior to August 1998. Third, Kassuelke states that he knew that his job duties had been eliminated by April 1998 with the change to the new facility.
The only specific evidence connecting Lutz to Kassuelke’s treatment at Alliant is Stephen Price’s affidavit. That evidence, however, does not connect Lutz with Alliant management’s decisions regarding Kassuelke’s employment before May 1998, and it does not directly or indirectly show that Alliant knew of the protected conduct. Mere speculation is not circumstantial evidence that justifies an inference of retaliatory motive. Cokley v. City of Otsego, 623 N.W.2d 625, 633 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. May 15, 2001). This is particularly true when the employee cannot show pretext for the employer’s legitimate and non-discriminatory reason for an adverse employment decision. Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 102 (Minn. 1999); see also Sigurdson v. Isanti County, 386 N.W.2d 715, 720 (Minn. 1986); Hubbard, 330 N.W.2d at 445. Here, Kassuelke cannot show pretext because he does not dispute that (1) Alliant “upper management” made the decision to move operations to West Virginia; and (2) all decisions affecting Kassuelke’s employment were made many months before Alliant received the government contract and before Lutz was involved with Alliant.
Similarly, Kassuelke’s reprisal claim, alleging that Alliant and Fischer’s actions prevented him from obtaining employment with Hexcel, lacks any direct or indirect evidentiary support. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Kassuelke, he fails to make his case because the evidence does not show that (1) Fischer or anyone else at Alliant told Hexcel to “hold off” on hiring Kassuelke; (2) even if they did, Fischer or Alliant had any authority over hiring at Hexcel; (3) Marksbury had any authority to hire at Hexcel; (4) the business reason proffered by Hexcel was pretext; and (5) there was a retaliatory motive for Hexcel declining to offer Kassuelke a position.
Kassuelke’s hearsay allegation that his friend at Alliant, Bob Lewis, “told Kassuelke that [he] had overheard a phone conversation in which Fischer told Marksbury to ‘hold off on hiring’ Kassuelke” does not create a genuine issue of material fact. On a summary judgment motion, a court may only consider evidence that would be admissible at trial and may not consider hearsay. Murphy v. Country House, Inc., 307 Minn. 344, 349, 240 N.W.2d 507, 511 (1976) (disregarding hearsay evidence on summary judgment motion).
Because Kassuelke’s reprisal claims fail, so does his aiding and abetting claim. By the terms of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), an underlying MHRA claim is a prerequisite to a claim under the aiding-and-abetting provision. Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 6 (2000); Smith v. DataCard Corp., 9 F. Supp. 2d 1067, 1081 (D. Minn. 1998). Because Kassuelke produced no evidence of a causal connection in his underlying reprisal claims, summary judgment on the aiding-and-abetting claim was also proper.
Interference with prospective business relations arises when one intentionally and improperly interferes with another’s prospective business relation by inducing a third person not to enter into or continue the prospective relation or preventing the other from continuing the prospective relation. Hough Transit, Ltd. v. Nat’l Farmer’s Org., 472 N.W.2d 358, 361 (Minn. App. 1991) (citing United Wild Rice, Inc. v. Nelson, 313 N.W.2d 628, 632-33 (Minn. 1982)). Absent evidence that Alliant and Fischer told Hexcel to hold off on hiring Kassuelke and, if so, that it was “wrongful,” there is also no genuine issue of material fact for this claim to go to trial.