This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed April 4, 2006
Washington County District Court
File No. C6-04-514
Leslie L. Lienemann, Culberth & Lienemann, LLP, 1050 Piper Jaffray Plaza, 444 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
David M. Wilk, Sarah L. Beuning, Larson King LLP, 2800 Wells Fargo Place, 30 East 7th Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment and dismissal with prejudice of her complaint alleging discrimination based on sex, pregnancy, and marital status, and retaliation for requesting and taking parental leave. Because there are no genuine issues of material fact and because the district court did not err in its application of the law, we affirm.
In July 2000, appellant Michelle Eichinger began working in respondent Imation Corporation’s treasury department in a treasury analyst/cash management position. Jerry Halbach became appellant’s supervisor two months later. Appellant was not married, had three children, and was living with her boyfriend at the time. In January 2001, she notified Halbach that she was pregnant.
Appellant alleges that Halbach made religious references concerning unmarried cohabitation and negative comments both about appellant being pregnant and single and about the number of children that she had. Appellant also alleges that when she notified Halbach about her pregnancy, he said, “You just can’t leave your life the way it is, you have to make it as complicated as possible, don’t you?”
When her child was born, appellant took a paid eight-week parenting leave. She returned to work on September 4, working part-time hours but receiving full-time benefits for an additional eight weeks.
In October 2001, respondent announced the impending sale of one of its business units; as a result of the sale, certain corporate functions were eliminated. Robert Edwards, respondent’s Chief Financial Officer, directed Halbach to reduce costs in the treasury department, including reducing personnel by one full-time equivalent. Accordingly, Halbach eliminated two full-time positions and created two part-time positions, effective after May 31, 2002. Halbach targeted the two least-senior positions for the reduction, concluding after an investigation that such action would cause the least disruption to the department. Appellant’s position was one of those targeted for reduction to part-time.
In December 2001, Halbach notified appellant that her full-time position would be eliminated in May 2002. The parties dispute whether Halbach told appellant at that time that the job was being reduced to part-time. Respondent claims that appellant was notified in December, while appellant contends that she did not know until spring 2002. Appellant claims that when she asked Halbach why she was not able to keep her job, he responded that she needed a full-time job because of her family situation.
Believing that her job would be eliminated and not trusting the stability of the part-time position, appellant took a different position with Imation in May 2002. While appellant enjoyed the same wages and benefits in her new administrative-assistant position in the IT department, she was not doing the same work that she had in the treasury department, and she reported feeling bored and overpaid.
In spring 2002, respondent’s outside auditor discovered that the company had lost $1.5 million to fraud. As a result, Edwards directed Halbach to hire a highly trained analyst to implement new cash-management procedures prescribed by the board of directors. Edwards allegedly instructed Halbach “to hire a certified public accountant (CPA) with Big Four accounting experience and at least a bachelors’ degree.” Accordingly, respondent posted an E3 treasury analyst/cash management position in June 2002. Appellant does not deny that the E3 position was a different and higher-level position than the E2 position that she held before leaving the treasury department. The new position included new higher-level functions and specifically required a bachelor’s degree, but the posting did not specify CPA and “Big Four” accounting-firm experience.
Appellant contends that she did not apply for the new E3 position because, when she asked Halbach why she was not given the job, he responded that she was welcome to return to the treasury department when she completed her degree and her son was older. Appellant admits that her son was very ill in early 2002 and that she was only able to work half-time as a result. Appellant reported the comment to the human-resources (HR) manager. Appellant also complained about not being considered for the job, but the HR manager explained that it was not the same job that she had previously held.
Kristie Solberg, the individual hired for the new position, had a bachelor’s degree, was a CPA, and had “Big Four” accounting experience. She was also married and had no children. Solberg held the position for 18 months until she was promoted to another position. Respondent filled the vacancy internally with an individual who was not qualified to perform all of the position’s duties. As a result, Solberg continued to perform certain functions, with other high-level functions being fulfilled by others in the department. As a result, the compensation for the position was reduced to reflect the employee’s diminished responsibilities.
voluntarily left Imation in September 2002.
She subsequently filed a discrimination charge with the Minnesota
Department of Human Rights (MDHR), but that charge was dismissed on the ground
that the evidence did not support it.
Appellant then filed a complaint in district court, alleging that
respondent violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) by discriminating
against her on the basis of marital status, sex, and pregnancy, and that
Respondent moved for summary judgment, arguing that many of appellant’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations, that appellant lacked evidence that she had suffered an adverse employment action, and that appellant lacked evidence that her sex, marital status, or parenting leave were considered when respondent made employment decisions. Appellant argued that her MHRA claims were not time-barred because of the doctrine of continuing violations, that Halbach’s comments constituted direct evidence of discrimination, and that genuine issues of material fact existed as to her retaliation claim and her allegations of MHRA discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas analysis.
The district court determined that the doctrine of continuing violations does not apply, that appellant’s discrimination claim concerning the reduction of her position to part-time is time-barred, that appellant failed to present a prima facie case of discrimination to support her MHRA claims, and that she had not presented sufficient evidence to sustain her retaliation claim. The court granted summary judgment in favor of respondent and dismissed appellant’s complaint with prejudice. This appeal follows.
appeal from summary judgment, we ask two questions: (1) whether there are any
genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the [district] court erred in
[its] application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2,
Appellant argues that summary judgment on her MHRA claim is inappropriate because Halbach’s comments constitute direct evidence of discrimination. In the alternative, she argues that she has presented sufficient circumstantial evidence to show a prima facie case of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas analysis.
The MHRA provides that
it is an unfair employment practice for an employer, because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, membership or activity in a local commission, disability, sexual orientation, or age to:
. . . .
(c) discriminate against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities, or privileges of employment.
A. Direct evidence
Appellant argues that she has presented direct evidence of discrimination and that the district court erred by classifying her evidence as stray remarks that do not rise to the level of adverse employment action. Evidence need not constitute an adverse employment action to be probative of discrimination or discriminatory animus. See, e.g., Ryther v. Kare 11, 108 F.3d 832, 844 (8th Cir. 1997) (stating that evidence of untruthfulness and negativity, when taken with other evidence, may be probative of discriminatory animus or discrimination).
evidence is evidence showing a specific link between the alleged discriminatory
animus and the challenged decision, sufficient to support a finding by a
reasonable fact finder that an illegitimate criterion actually motivated the
adverse employment action.” Griffith
v. City of
Here, appellant asserts that she presented direct evidence of discrimination in the form of her testimony (coupled with the absence of Halbach’s denial) that Halbach told her that (1) she needed full-time employment because of her family situation and (2) she was welcome to return to the treasury department when she completed her degree and her son was older.
Halbach’s comment that appellant needed full-time employment because of her family situation was made in the context of appellant and Halbach discussing the possibility of appellant remaining in the part-time position in the treasury department. Drawing all inferences in favor of appellant, it is arguable that Halbach’s comment evidences a discriminatory attitude on his part. But that is not enough to classify the evidence as direct evidence, because statements unrelated to the decisional process are not direct evidence of impermissible employment discrimination. Liberal R-II Sch. Dist., 314 F.3d at 923.
The alleged adverse employment action in question is respondent’s December 2001 decision to reduce or eliminate appellant’s treasury position. Because of the lapse of time between the decision and the comments and because of the absence of evidence of any causal link between the two, the evidence is not sufficiently related to the decision to be considered direct evidence. See, e.g., Yates, 255 F.3d at 549.
Appellant also takes issue with the district court’s holding that Halbach’s comment about being welcome back when her son was older was merely a stray remark. The comment was allegedly made in response to appellant’s query to Halbach about why she was not offered the new E3 position awarded to Solberg. As the district court concluded, “There is no evidence to suggest that the comments were made as part of any decision-making process on the part of Halbach or Imation.” Because there appears to be no evidence demonstrating or alleging a relationship between Halbach’s comment and the decision to hire Solberg, the district court did not err by characterizing the comment as a stray remark. See Liberal R-II Sch. Dist., 314 F.3d at 923 (holding that statements unrelated to the decisional process are not direct evidence).
B. Circumstantial evidence
intent may also be demonstrated with “circumstantial evidence in accordance
with the three-part burden-shifting test set out by the United States Supreme
Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817 . . .
Utilizing a test substantially similar to that set forth above, the district court found that appellant was unable to establish a prima facie case of discrimination based on circumstantial evidence because she was not qualified for the newly created E3 position. The job posting for the E3 position required a four-year bachelor’s degree and included additional responsibilities and duties that were different from those that appellant performed when she was employed in the treasury department. Appellant concedes that she did not have a bachelor’s degree when the job was posted and that she was not qualified for the new position.
Appellant’s argument that “Imation’s normal practice is to promote from within even when the internal candidate does not possess all of the minimum qualifications” is unpersuasive. Solberg held the E3 position for 18 months until she was promoted to another position; respondent filled the vacancy internally with an individual who was not qualified to perform all of the position’s duties, although he did have a four-year degree. But the job was transformed after the internal replacement was hired, so that Solberg continued to perform certain functions, other high-level functions were fulfilled by others in the department, and the compensation for the position was reduced to reflect the replacement’s resulting responsibilities—an equivalent of an E1 or E2 job position. And while evidence shows that respondent commonly hires individuals who are not able to satisfy all the requirements of the job when filling internal job postings, the position in question here was posted both internally and externally. There is no genuine issue of material fact related to this issue, and the district court did not err by concluding that appellant has failed to demonstrate a prima facie case of discrimination using circumstantial evidence.
contends that the district court erred in holding that her claims concerning
the reduction of her position to part-time status are barred by the statute of
limitations. Claims under the MHRA must
be filed with the MDHR or the district court within one year of the allegedly
did not file a claim with the MDHR until May 2003, well over a year later. But appellant argues that the doctrine of
continuing violations relieves her of the statute of limitations’ claim-barring
effect. The doctrine of continuing
violations applies “when the discriminatory acts of an employer over a period
of time indicate a systematic repetition of the same policy and constitute a
sufficiently integrated pattern to form, in effect, a single discriminatory
act.” Hubbard v. United Press Int’l., Inc., 330 N.W.2d 428, 440-41 n.11 (
allegedly discriminatory action consists of the reduction of appellant’s
position to part-time status, Halbach’s alleged misrepresentation that
appellant’s position was being eliminated, and Halbach’s refusal to consider
appellant for the new E3 position. The
refusal to consider appellant for the new position occurred within the
limitations period. Appellant contends
that the doctrine of continuing violations applies here because respondent’s
actions are not separate acts but constitute “one unlawful employment practice
that manifested itself over the course of six months.” Caselaw indicates that “[a] discrete act
‘occur[s] on the day that it happen[s]’ and constitutes its own unlawful
employment practice” and that “[e]xamples of discrete acts include
‘termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to
hire.’” Mems v. City of
Because the actions complained of here constitute a series of discrete actions, we conclude that the doctrine of continuing violations does not apply. The district court did not err in determining that appellant’s claims concerning the reduction of her position to part-time status are barred by the statute of limitations.
appellant asserts that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on
her retaliation claim.
comment that “You just can’t leave your life the way it is, you have to make it
as complicated as possible, don’t you?” does not rise to the level of direct
evidence. It occurred months before
appellant requested or obtained parental leave and, thus, constitutes a stray
remark. See Yates, 255 F.3d
at 549. Nor does the comment constitute sufficient
the district court found that appellant failed to present evidence
demonstrating a causal connection between her parental leave and any adverse
employment action. A “causal connection
may be demonstrated indirectly by evidence of circumstances that justify an
inference of retaliatory motive, such as a showing that the employer has actual
or imputed knowledge of the protected activity and the adverse employment
action follows closely in time.” Hubbard, 330 N.W.2d at 445. But timing alone is generally not enough to
sustain the inference. Kipp v.
Appellant received eight weeks of paid parenting leave. When she returned from leave, she worked part-time hours but received full-time benefits for another eight weeks. Appellant has failed to demonstrate direct evidence of retaliation or evidence of a causal connection between her parenting leave and an adverse employment action. Because there is no genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment on that component of her complaint is appropriate.