may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Marilyn M. Potter,
Odyssey Travel Agency, Inc.,
d/b/a ABC Travel,
Filed February 25, 1997
Hennepin County District Court
File No. EM 94-16167
William J. Egan, Doreen A. Mohs, Rider, Bennet, Egan & Arundel, LLP, 2000 Metropolitan Centre, 333 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
Marilyn Potter appeals from the district court's order dismissing her claims for failure to state a claim. She argues that she was terminated for testifying at an arbitration hearing regarding a contractual dispute involving her employer, and thus she is entitled to relief under the Whistleblower Statute. We affirm.
Potter began working for respondent in 1980. On July 1, 1994, Potter was served with a subpoena to testify in an arbitration proceeding conducted by the American Arbitration Association (AAA), a private non-profit organization, arising out of a contractual dispute between the former owners of the business and respondent. On July 6, Potter testified. On July 11 (her first day of work after testifying), Potter was terminated.
Potter sued, alleging that she was fired because of her testimony in the arbitration hearing and that this violated the Whistleblower Statute. On the first day of trial, the district court granted respondent's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, reasoning that
simple disputes between parties that are private in nature don't fall within the purview of the Whistleblower Statute. This principle applies here as well. It's a private dispute and the public interest is not involved.
This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
In reviewing a case that was dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted, the only question before the reviewing court is whether the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for relief. Elzie v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 298 N.W.2d 29, 32 (Minn. 1980).
I. Whistleblower Statute
The Whistleblower Statute provides that
An employer shall not discharge * * * an employee * * * because:
* * * (b) the employee is requested by a public body or office to participate in an investigation, hearing, inquiry.
Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subd. 1(b) (1994). The question in this case is whether the subpoena issued by the arbitrator in this case was a request by a public body or office to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry. There is no dispute that the arbitration proceeding constituted an "investigation, hearing, [or] inquiry," or that the subpoena would be a "request * * * to participate." Thus, the question is whether the arbitrator is a "public body or office" within the meaning of the statute. As respondent notes, the AAA is a private organization, not a public body or office. Thus, Potter's claim does not come within subdivision 1(b) of the statute.
As the district court noted, this conclusion is consistent with cases interpreting subdivision 1(a), which forbids firing employees for reporting violations of law. See Vonch v. Carlson Cos., 439 N.W.2d 406 (Minn. App. 1989) (public did not have an interest in an internal matter--employee's disclosure of alleged theft and fraud in connection with travel and expense account improprieties of his supervisor--and thus the claim was not covered by Whistleblower Statute), review denied (Minn. July 12, 1989). Similarly, the public does not have an interest in a contract dispute between respondent and the former owners.
Thus, because the AAA is not a public body, and because the contract dispute is not a matter of public interest, the district court properly dismissed Potter's claim.
II. Public Policy Exception
Potter argues that, even if her claim is not covered under the Whistleblower Statute, it comes within the "public policy" exception to at-will employment. See Phipps v. Clark Oil & Ref. Corp., 408 N.W.2d 569 (Minn. 1987). However, Potter does not allege that she was fired for reporting a violation of law. See id; Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subd. 1(a). Thus, this claim also fails to state a claim.