This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ' 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Kari Aanenson, et al.,
County of Norman, et al.,
Filed July 16, 1996
Norman County District Court
File No. C693193
Kenneth F. Johannson, Johannson, Taylor, Rust, Tye & Fagerlund, P.A., 407 North Broadway, Post Office Box 605, Crookston, MN 56716-0605 (for Appellants).
Peter D. Bergstrom, 7914 Platt Avenue N.W., South Haven, MN 55382 (for Respondents).
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Davies, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
This is an appeal from judgment and the denial of a new trial in a gender pay-equity action. Five female Norman County employees in the county recorder/motor vehicles office and the court administration office appeal the district court's decision against their claims that the county's salary schedule discriminates based on gender, violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Minnesota Pay Equity Act, and the county's employment policy. The record supports the district court's findings, and we affirm.
D E C I S I O N
Our review of the district court's decision is confined to "whether the court's findings are clearly erroneous and whether it erred in its conclusions of law." Schweich v. Ziegler, Inc., 463 N.W.2d 722, 729 (Minn. 1990). The district court's decision on whether to grant a new trial is within its discretion and should not be upset absent a clear abuse of that discretion. Halla Nursery v. Baumann-Furrie & Co., 454 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. 1990).
The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits gender discrimination in the terms of compensation. Minn. Stat. ' 363.03, subd. 1(2)(c) (1994). Minnesota has adopted a three-part test to evaluate discrimination cases. Danz v. Jones, 263 N.W.2d 395, 399 (Minn. 1978) (adopting McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 1824 (1973)). The plaintiff must first establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of gender discrimination. Id.; St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506, 113 S. Ct. 2742, 2747 (1993). The defendant must then produce a legitimate, nondiscriminatory explanation to rebut the prima facie case. Danz, 263 N.W.2d at 400; Hicks, 509 U.S. at 507, 113 S. Ct. at 2747. Finally, the plaintiff retains the burden of persuasion and must demonstrate that the defendant's explanation is only a pretext for the true discriminatory reason. Danz, 263 N.W.2d at 399.
After hearing the evidence, the district court found that the employees failed to establish a prima facie case. A plaintiff must show the "bare essentials of unequal treatment" due to sex, meaning different wages to employees of opposite sexes for equal work requiring "'equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.'" Danz, 263 N.W.2d at 399-400 (quoting Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 417 U.S. 188, 195, 94 S. Ct. 2223, 2228 (1974)).
The employees presented evidence that the deputies in the county treasurer/auditor office, a gender-balanced class, received higher salaries than their female-dominated classes, although the groups had similar work value points. These points reflect "the value of work measured by the skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions normally required in the performance of the work." Minn. Stat. ' 471.991, subd. 3 (1994). State courts may consider the comparable work value points established by a county "as evidence" in any action alleging discrimination. Minn. Stat. ' 471.997 (1994). But there is no identifiable correlation between the county's salaries and its comparable work value points. County officials testified that the salaries were set before creating the comparable work value points and that they received no instruction that identical points merit identical salary ranges.
The district court found that the employees failed to present adequate evidence on their job responsibilities. The court further found that the employees failed to show that their duties are equal to those of the treasurer/auditor deputies. The employees' testimony about their duties is brief and generally stated. But more importantly, the testimony does not establish the duties of the deputy treasurer/auditors and whether all deputy duties are similar. Without this information the employees cannot establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, equal work for unequal pay due to gender. The district court did not err in concluding that the employees failed to establish a prima facie case of gender discrimination.
Even if the employees had presented a prima facie case, the county provided a gender-neutral explanation for the wage disparity. A county commissioner testified that the offices of county treasurer and county auditor were merged in the mid-to-late 1980s, and the number of employees fell from six to three. The county board increased the three remaining employees' salaries to reflect an increased workload. The employees presented no testimony or evidence to refute this explanation, and thus failed to meet their burden of persuasion.
The Minnesota Pay Equity Act requires the state's political subdivisions to establish "equitable compensation relationships between female-dominated, male-dominated, and balanced classes * * * ." Minn. Stat. ' 471.992, subd. 1 (1994). The act defines an "equitable compensation relationship" to mean the compensation for female-dominated classes is not "consistently below" that of male-dominated classes of comparable work value. Minn. Stat. ' 471.991, subd. 5 (1994). This court has held that the act provides an action for gender-based wage disparities. Armstrong v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 498 N.W.2d 471, 476 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. May 28, 1993). But the act does not equalize wages when the disparity is due to factors other than gender. Id.
In the present case, the county presented evidence that department consolidation, not gender, produced the wage disparity among the deputy positions. The employees did not rebut this evidence. The employees failed to present credible evidence that the deputies in the court administrator's office or the recorder's office perform the same or equivalent work as the deputies in the treasurer/auditor's office. The state Department of Employee Relations has determined that Norman County's salary schedules comply with the act. The employees failed to prove that the wage disparity is attributable to gender.
Finally, the employees contend that the county breached its employment policy prohibiting gender discrimination. Employee handbook provisions that satisfy the requirements for forming a unilateral contract may be enforceable as part of the employment contract. Lewis v. Equitable Life Assur. Soc'y, 389 N.W.2d 876, 883 (Minn. 1986). A unilateral contract requires an offer of employment without specific duration on particular terms that the employee accepts. Id. The district court found that because the county distributed the employment policy, establishing terms and conditions of employment, the policy constituted an offer that the employees accepted. The evidence supports these findings.
The county's employment policy provides that "[n]o discrimination shall be exercised against any employee because of race, color, creed, sex * * * ." The district court made no specific factual findings about breach of this provision, but the same lack of evidence in the other two claims also defeats this contract claim. The employees offered only the similar comparable worth points, without explaining a similarity of job duties. This evidence does not establish a breach of contract because of gender discrimination. And the county provided a gender-neutral explanation for the wage disparity, which the employees did not rebut. The district court did not err in determining that the employees provided insufficient evidence that the county breached its contract of employment by discriminating on the basis of gender.