This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







Jessica R. Fredrickson,





Noble Ventures, LLC,




Filed March 21, 2006

Reversed and remanded
Crippen, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. DJ 03 001597



Michael D. Schwartz, Schwartz & Smith, P.A., 455 Pond Promenade, Suite 210, P.O. Box 219, Chanhassen, MN  55317 (for appellant)


Noble Ventures, LLC, 527 Marquette Avenue, Suite 2340, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (respondent)


            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant Jessica Fredrickson challenges the district court’s summary judgment dismissing her discrimination claim, asserting that there remain genuine issues of material fact as to whether proffered justifications for terminating her employment were pretextual.  Because a summary judgment was not warranted on this record, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.


            Citing employee misconduct, respondent Noble Ventures L.L.C. terminated appellant’s employment shortly after she was employed.  Appellant’s subsequent suit alleged that the termination was based on her pregnancy, sex, and marital status, constituting an unfair discriminatory practice under Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 1 (2000) (now codified at Minn. Stat. § 363A.08 (2004)).

            In February 2004, the district court denied respondent’s summary judgment motion.  When the parties appeared for trial in October 2004, respondent’s counsel, Chad McKenney, stated that his client had terminated his representation and his former client was not prepared to present any trial defense.  In response, appellant asserted that a default judgment was appropriate, but the district court announced that it would instead act on the previously developed record, including respondent’s earlier motion for summary judgment.

            In January 2005, the court granted summary judgment in respondent’s favor and dismissed appellant’s unlawful-termination claim.  The court observed that appellant succeeded in proving a prima facie case but failed as a matter of law to rebut respondent’s earlier claim that the employment termination was prompted by poor performance. 



On an appeal from summary judgment, this court asks whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law.  State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990).  We are to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.  Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).

It is an unfair employment practice under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (the act) for an employer to discriminate against a person as to terms and conditions of employment on the basis of sex.  Minn. Stat. § 363A.08, subd. 2 (2004).  Sex discrimination under the act includes discrimination because of pregnancy.  See Minn. Stat. § 363A.03, subd. 42 (2004).  

Minnesota courts analyze sex discrimination claims using the burden shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802–03, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 1824 (1973).  See Dietrich v. Canadian Pac. Ltd., 536 N.W.2d 319, 323 (Minn. 1995) (applying McDonnell Douglas test to claim under the act).  To successfully proceed under the act, (1) the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination; (2) the burden then shifts to the employer to articulate a nondiscriminatory reason for its action; and (3) the plaintiff must then prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the proffered reason is merely a pretext for discrimination.  Dietrich, 536 N.W.2d at 323.

            The relevant inquiry under the third prong of McDonnell Douglas is “whether or not the court is persuaded that the employee has been the victim of intentional discrimination.”  Hasnudeen v. Onan Corp., 552 N.W.2d 555, 557 (Minn. 1996) (quoting Anderson v. Hunter, Keith, Marshall & Co., 417 N.W.2d 619, 626 (Minn. 1988)).  Appellant may satisfy her burden by demonstrating through indirect evidence that her employer’s explanation is “unworthy of credence.”  Rutherford v. County of Kandiyohi, 449 N.W.2d 457, 463 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Feb. 28, 1990).  

            Respondent contended in 2004 that the company terminated appellant because of employment misconduct and performance problems, pointing to appellant’s tendency to arrive late or leave early, as well as her failure to communicate with her superiors.  Appellant’s affidavit and deposition assert that her hours at the company were flexible and that she received no written or verbal warning regarding her performance prior to announcing her pregnancy.  Appellant alleges that respondent terminated her employment because David Mah, a joint owner of the company, disapproved of her pregnancy plans.  Appellant states that Mah (1) made several comments to her reflecting his belief that appellant would not return following maternity leave; (2) informed appellant that he would not have hired her had he known that she would be taking maternity leave so soon; and (3) suggested that appellant use the company’s phones to look for a new job. 

            Under these circumstances, the district court’s summary judgment was erroneous.  Appellant’s account of events, if true, demonstrates not only a prima facie case, as the court observed, but also creates a credibility question regarding respondent’s explanation for the termination.  Appellant’s account thus creates an issue of material fact regarding an unlawful motivation for her termination.  Moreover the court wrongfully redetermined the case on the same record that produced a 2004 denial of respondent’s motion for summary judgment.  Any subsequent submissions for respondent, without counsel, constituted an improper attempt of a corporation to act in a judicial proceeding without counsel.  See Nicollet Restoration, Inc. v. Turnham, 486 N.W.2d 753, 754 (Minn. 1992).  Finally, the record indicates that appellant prepared for trial and requested the opportunity to present evidence after respondent declined to participate in the trial, and the court had no cause to deny hearing this evidence.  


            Appellant also disputes the district court’s refusal to enter a default judgment against respondent.  Appellant’s default-judgment motion was premised on the announcement on the date for trial that respondent had decided against presenting a defense.  Respondent’s counsel reiterated, “I mean to be clear, [respondent] understands that [appellant] [has] a right to pursue trial and obtain a default judgment.”  The district court refused appellant’s suggestion for a default judgment and denied her request to present testimony with respect to liability, damages, and attorney fees.  After the October 2004 hearing, appellant filed a motion for a default judgment, which also was denied.

The court has broad discretion to enforce calendar rules and prevent unnecessary and inexcusable delays.  Housing & Redev. Auth. v. Kotlar, 352 N.W.2d 497, 499 (Minn. App. 1984).  And within that authority, a district court may render judgment by default against a disobedient party who fails to comply with or respond to discovery orders, scheduling orders, or requests.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 16.06, 37.02(b)(3); see also O’Neil v. Corrick, 307 Minn. 497, 497–98, 239 N.W.2d 230, 230 (1976).  Absent an abuse of the district court’s discretion, we must affirm the denial of appellant’s motion for a default judgment.  See Petrich v. Dyke, 419 N.W.2d 833, 835 (Minn. App. 1988).  The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a default judgment.    

It is undisputed that respondent violated the district court’s pretrial scheduling orders when it appeared at trial unprepared to defend the matter and respondent’s counsel admitted that appellant had a right to pursue a default judgment.  But the record permits the district court’s conclusion that respondent did not withdraw its answer or its prior submissions to the court.  See Minn. R. Civ. P. 55.01 (directing court to enter default judgment against defendant who has “failed to plead or otherwise defend” in a matter).

Reversed and remanded.

* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.