This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Allina Health Systems,
Filed December 16, 2003
Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
Anoka County District Court
File No. C0-02-7728
Robert J. Hajek, Roger E. Meyer, Warchol, Berndt & Hajek, P.A., 3433 Broadway Street Northeast, Suite 110, Minneapolis, MN 55413-1783 (for appellant)
Paul J. Zech, Sara Gullickson McGrane, Janet C. Ampe, Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon & Vogt, 225 South Sixth Street, Suite 4200, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.
In this employment-discrimination action against respondent Allina Health Systems, appellant Deb Cramer alleges that Allina terminated her employment because of her disability and failed to make reasonable accommodations for her. Cramer argues that her condition is a long-term disability, which Allina should have accommodated. The district court granted summary judgment in Allina’s favor, reasoning that Cramer failed to show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she was a disabled person within the meaning of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. ch. 363 (2002); that Allina did not have a record of Cramer’s disability; and that Allina did not regard Cramer as disabled within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 363.01, subd. 13. We affirm.
This is an appeal from a summary judgment dismissing appellant Deb Cramer’s claim that respondent Allina Health Systems terminated her employment as a pharmacy technician because of her disability and thereby violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), Minn. Stat. ch. 363 (2002). The district court determined that Cramer did not sufficiently show that she is disabled.
Cramer adopts a portion of the facts the district court set forth in its memorandum. They show that she worked for Mercy Hospital and Cambridge Medical Center, both divisions of Allina. Her employment at Mercy extended from 1994 to the time of the summary judgment, but Cramer had not actually worked at Mercy since July 2000. She also held a part-time position at Cambridge from August 1999 until October 2001, but had not actually worked at Cambridge since September 2000.
In July 1999, a water main broke and flooded the Mercy pharmacy, causing water damage and mold infestation. Cramer alleges that she developed an “idiopathic environmental intolerance” to mold and various chemical substances and that her condition manifested in physical and cognitive symptoms that impaired her ability to work.
Cramer took a three-month medical leave starting in September 2000. Thereafter, her physician approved her return to work, with the restriction that she avoid contact with mold, perfume, cleaning alcohol, and dust.
Cramer asked Allina to accommodate her restrictions, and she alleges that she told Cambridge’s manager about her chemical sensitivity. Allina determined that Cramer could work at Cambridge with minimal accommodation but could not work at Mercy because of the mold in the pharmacy. In October 2001, Allina terminated Cramer’s employment at Cambridge but invited her to work at Mercy.
In addition to these facts, it appears undisputed that soon after her termination from Cambridge, Cramer began working at a fitness center, and later she and her husband opened their own fitness center where she now works full time. Although she still has a chemical sensitivity, she can control it by avoiding contact with certain chemicals and by taking medication.
In opposition to Allina’s motion for summary judgment, Cramer submitted reports from Dr. S. Scott Nicholas, who did an independent medical examination respecting Cramer’s workers’ compensation claim, and Dr. Michael Dole. Dr. Nicholas stated that Cramer has a “mild form of Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance,” that she could return to work at Cambridge with “relatively few considerations,” that she sustained no permanent injury as a result of the flooding in July 1999, and that “she was recovered from her temporary disability by December 1, 1999 at the very latest.” Dr. Dole indicated that, as a result of the flood, Cramer developed “Sick Building Syndrome,” but that he is “unable to say today if she is permanently disabled.” Dr. Dole also stated that “she is at least temporarily partially disabled from her own and any other occupation unless the environment can be carefully controlled.”
When Cramer took her leave of absence, she submitted a medical certification that she developed severe allergies after the flooding at Mercy and that her work would be restricted to avoidance of “heavy molds, chemicals and dust exposure.” Mercy Hospital noted that it would be unable to comply with some of the restrictions because of the nature of hospital work.
D E C I S I O N
Cramer alleges that Allina violated the MHRA, Minn. Stat. Ch. 363 (2002), by failing to accommodate her disability and instead terminating her employment as a pharmacy technician.
Under the MHRA, it is an unfair employment practice for an employer to discharge an employee because of a disability. Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 1(2). When an employer knows of an employee’s disability, the employer must provide reasonable accommodations for the employee. Hoover v. Norwest Private Mortgage Banking, 632 N.W.2d 534, 547 (Minn. 2001).
A person is disabled under the MHRA if he or she fits any of three categories: “(1) has a physical, sensory, or mental impairment which materially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.” Minn. Stat. § 363.01, subd. 13. A person’s employment is recognized as a major life activity. Sigurdson v. Carl Bolander & Sons Co., 532 N.W.2d 225, 228 (Minn. 1995). Cramer alleges that her sensory impairment of chemical sensitivity materially limits her ability to work and, thus, she is disabled within the purview of the MHRA.
The district court ruled that Cramer could not meet any of the three definitions of “disabled person” and therefore could not succeed in her action as a matter of law, and granted summary judgment in favor of Allina. On appeal, Cramer adopts the dispositive facts as set forth by the district court, raises no additional issues of material fact, and disputes the court’s conclusion that, on those facts, she is not a “disabled person” as a matter of law. Summary judgment is appropriate where no essential fact is in dispute. Abdallah, Inc. v. Martin, 242 Minn. 416, 424, 65 N.W.2d 641, 646 (1954). Our task then is to determine which party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Schmidt v. Smith, 299 Minn. 103, 107, 216 N.W.2d 669, 671 (1974).
An essential requirement of a discrimination claim under the MHRA is a showing that the claimant is a member of a protected class. Sigurdson, 532 N.W.2d at 228. A disabled person is a member of a protected class under the MHRA. Minn. Stat. § 363.01, subd. 13.
The district court determined that Cramer is not a disabled person because there is no evidence that she has either a permanent or a long-term impairment as required by Toyota Motor Mfg, Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 185, 122 S. Ct. 681, 685 (2002). Neither the MHRA nor Minnesota caselaw addresses the requisite duration of a disability before a person can qualify as a disabled person. But our courts have customarily followed and applied federal law to various aspects of discrimination claims. Sigurdson, 532 N.W.2d at 228. See also Danz v. Jones, 263 N.W.2d 395, 399 (Minn. 1978) (adopting McDonnell Douglas test). And recent federal cases interpreting the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, have consistently held that a disability must be permanent or long term, rather than temporary or transitory, to qualify a person for protection against discrimination. Toyota, 534 U.S. at 198, 122 S. Ct. at 691; Mellon v. Fed. Express Corp., 239 F.3d 954, 957 (8th Cir. 2001); McDonald v. Commonwealth of Pa., 62 F.3d 92, 95-96 (3d Cir. 1995); Brown v. Farmland Foods, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 961, 973 (N.D. Iowa 2001). Furthermore, it seems reasonable that a temporary incapacitation is not what is intended by the concept of disability, for otherwise the act would apply so broadly that virtually everyone would fit into the protected class at one time or another. Under the broad interpretation, anyone who, because of nonpermanent illness or injury, is restricted to bed rest for several days or weeks would qualify for the act’s protection.
Because the district court granted summary judgment, it necessarily determined that Cramer failed to point to a genuine fact issue for trial, which is her burden as the nonmoving party faced with a summary judgment motion. Hoover, 632 N.W.2d at 545. Cramer offered the expert opinions of two physicians to show the nature and extent of her disability. Neither expert stated that Cramer’s condition presented a permanent or long-term impairment, and nothing in the expert opinions reasonably supports an inference that the trier of fact could draw about permanency or a long-term disability. Without evidence of at least a long-term disability, Cramer is unable to satisfy the statutory requirement that she fit into the protected class of disabled persons.
The district court also ruled that Cramer failed to present genuine fact issues as to her qualification as a disabled person under the second and third definitions of that term on the MHRA.
A person is disabled under the MHRA if he or she has a record of an impairment that materially limits one or more major life activities or if that person is regarded as having such an impairment. Minn. Stat. § 363.01, subd. 13.
Although Allina was aware that Cramer had a medical condition that resulted in a three-month leave of absence, the record that Allina had was that, after the leave of absence, Cramer was approved to return to work with some restrictions. Nothing in her history at Mercy or Cambridge shows the type of impairment that would qualify her as having a record of disability, and there is no evidence that her employer regarded her as being disabled. See Weber v. Strippit, Inc., 186 F.3d 907, 915 (8th Cir. 1999) (medical documentation must show a qualifying impairment); Hayes v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minn., Inc., 21 F. Supp. 2d 960, 972 n.7 (D. Minn. 1998) (supervisor’s mere awareness of employee’s condition is not sufficient to show that the employer regarded the employee as disabled). Thus, the district court did not err in determining that Cramer failed to show genuine fact issues that would bring her within the second and third definitions of disabled person.