This opinion will be unpublished and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 August 8, 2006
Toussaint, Chief Judge
Lyon County District Court
File No. C9-03-965
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
Appellant JoAnne C. Hinckley brought an action under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), alleging gender discrimination by disparate treatment and hostile work environment, reprisal discrimination, and aiding and abetting against respondents Independent School District No. 2167, and school principals David Fjeldheim and Erik Broering. Appellant challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment on her claim of a hostile work environment, its judgment after trial dismissing her claims of disparate treatment, reprisal and aiding and abetting, and its denial of her motion for a new trial.
Because the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on appellant’s hostile work environment claim, because appellant’s claims of disparate treatment, reprisal, and aiding and abetting are unsupported by the record, and because the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying appellant’s motion for a new trial, we affirm.
Summary judgment is appropriate when, based on the pleadings,
discovery, and affidavits filed with the court, there are no genuine issues of
material fact and either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
“Findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary
evidence, shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall
be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the
A plaintiff prevails on a claim of sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment by showing
(1) she is a member of a protected group; (2) she was subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based on membership in a protected group; (4) the harassment affected a term, condition or privilege of her employment; and (5) the employer knew of or should have known of the harassment and failed to take appropriate remedial action.
Goins v. West Group, 635 N.W.2d 717, 725 (
The plaintiff must demonstrate that the sexual harassment
was so severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of the plaintiff’s
employment and created an abusive work environment in light of the totality of
the circumstances, including the frequency and severity of the conduct and
whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating or merely
Here, the district court concluded that appellant failed to produce any facts showing that she individually was subject to harassment, and that therefore her claim must fail. See Smith v. Ashland, Inc., 179 F. Supp. 2d 1065, 1070 (D. Minn. 2000) (stating that plaintiff must show harassing conduct was directed at plaintiff to establish hostile work environment).
According to the record, appellant was not the object of any of the sexual conduct; she acted as confidant to two female employees, who related incidents involving respondents Fjeldheim and Broering. Appellant was neither individually harassed nor present when the alleged incidents occurred; nor were the incidents so frequent or severe as to affect the conditions of her employment or to create a pervasively hostile work environment. Thus, appellant failed to establish an essential element of her claim.
On this record, we conclude that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on appellant’s claim of gender discrimination based on a hostile work environment.
If we assume that appellant established a prima facie case of disparate treatment, based on her gender, her qualifications, and the fact that she was discharged rather than the two male principals, Fjeldheim and Broering, respondents nevertheless have offered a nondiscriminatory reason for their actions: because of declining enrollments, the school district sought to reduce costs by trimming administrative positions and appellant, who held only an elementary principal’s license rather than K-12 licensure, was the least qualified of the three principals. The district court found that the district’s motivation for the reduction in positions was to save money, the district did realize cost savings, it was reasonable to do so by reducing administrative positions, and its decision to eliminate appellant’s position was based on “budgetary reasons, licensure reasons, and leadership issues.” These findings are supported by the record and are not clearly erroneous.
Appellant has not offered sufficient admissible evidence to rebut respondents’ proffered nondiscriminatory reason and has therefore failed to sustain her burden of proof. The district court did not err by concluding that appellant failed to prove her claim of disparate treatment.
The McDonnell Douglas
analysis is also used to evaluate claims of reprisal. Scott
Here, appellant established that she reported sexual harassment of two employees to the district superintendent and that she suffered an adverse employment action when she was placed on unrequested leave. The superintendent ordered an investigation of the harassment claims but did not share information about the claims, the investigation, or the outcome with the school board. The school board made the decision to place appellant on unrequested leave, but there is no evidence that the board was aware that appellant was a reporter of harassment when the board made its decision. Appellant has failed to demonstrate a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. Thus, the district court did not err by concluding that appellant had failed to prove reprisal by a preponderance of the evidence.
It is an unfair discriminatory practice for any person to
intentionally aid or abet another to engage in sexual harassment.
Appellant’s claim of aiding and abetting is based on her theory that the superintendent’s failure to report the claims of sexual harassment to the school board aided and abetted Fjeldheim’s and Broering’s unlawful conduct. This claim must fail for the same reason that appellant’s hostile work environment claim does: she was not the target of the harassing conduct. See Smith, 179 F. Supp. 2d at 1070. The district court did not err by concluding that appellant failed to establish her claim of aiding and abetting discrimination.
The district court’s decision
regarding a motion for a new trial is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Johnson
Having reviewed the record and the district court’s findings, we conclude that the district court’s verdict is supported by the record and its denial of appellant’s motion for a new trial is not an abuse of discretion.