This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




Jerry Kingbird, et al.,



Independent School District

No. 38,

Red Lake, Minnesota,


Filed April 15, 1997


Klaphake, Judge

Beltrami County District Court

File No. C6-92-863

Bruce P. Grostephan, Peterson, Engberg & Peterson, 700 Title Insurance Building, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for Appellants)

Paul T. Benshoof, Benshoof & Klein, P.A., Four West Office Building, Suite 200, 403 Fourth Street NW, P.O. Box 1390, Bemidji, MN 56619 (for Respondent)

Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.



Appellants, American Indian language and culture education teachers and their union, challenge the district court's grant of summary judgment for respondent, Independent School District No. 38, Red Lake, Minnesota. The district court dismissed appellants' discrimination claims brought under Minn. Stat. § 363.03 (1992). Because appellants failed to produce sufficient facts to support prima facie claims of disparate treatment and impact, we affirm.


Since 1977, the American Indian Education Act, Minn. Stat. § 126.44-.55 (1992) (the Act), has provided for special licensing of American Indian language and culture teachers. 1977 Minn. Laws ch. 312, § 5, at 634-35. Appellant teachers have these special licenses which recognize their knowledge of American Indian language and culture and allow them to teach in American Indian language and culture education programs. They are referred to as "eminence" teachers. Appellant teachers here, unlike teachers with general licenses, do not have college degrees. Respondent school district's two-tiered compensation schedule establishes compensation of non-degreed teachers at 88 percent of degreed (general licensed) teachers' compensation. Because appellants do not have degrees, they receive compensation at the 88 percent level.

In this action, appellants argue that they are entitled to the same compensation as degreed teachers. They claim that respondent's requirement of a college degree for full compensation discriminates against them and violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363.03 (1992) (MHRA).

1. American Indian Education Act

Appellants argue that equal compensation of specially licensed eminence and general licensed teachers is mandated by the Act, Minn. Stat. § 126.49 (1992).[1] Read in its entirety, the Act calls for "at least equivalent" compensation for eminence and general licensed teachers. Id. § 126.49, subd. 7; see Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (1996). Compliance with this "at least equivalent" language, however, is required only if the American Indian language and culture program is funded by the Act. See id. § 126.54, subd. 7 (if program not funded by Act, school district not required to comply with Act). Respondent has presented evidence that appellants' salaries were not funded by the Act and that only the program coordinator was paid with funds from the Act. Various other sources funded appellants' salaries and the program. Consequently, the "at least equivalent" compensation provision is inapplicable to this dispute, and the Act does not require appellants to be paid the same compensation as general licensed teachers.

2. Minnesota Human Rights Act

Appellants argue that they have presented a prima facie case of disparate treatment and impact under the MHRA, Minn. Stat. § 363.03 (1992). The district court made findings[2] and dismissed appellants' discrimination claim.

A court must analyze an MHRA disparate treatment employment discrimination claim under the test set forth in McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973). The test requires that the employee establish a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence, including proof of a discriminatory motive, and the employer does not rebut the presumption of discrimination with evidence of some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action. Should the employer carry its burden of producing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, then the employee may show that that reason or justification is actually a pretext for discrimination. See id. at 802, 93 S. Ct. at 1824; Butler v. Leadens Investigations & Sec., Inc., 503 N.W.2d 805, 808 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Sept. 30, 1993).

As evidence of discriminatory intent, appellants point to the fact that the only non-degreed teachers are the American Indian eminence teachers. They also offer affidavits purporting to show that their responsibilities and duties are the same as those of teachers with general licenses and degrees.

Appellants' contention that the "substantially similar responsibilities and duties" of the teachers mandates a finding of discriminatory intent is flawed. First, Minnesota law does not require equal wages for the same job responsibilities and duties in all cases. See, e.g., Minn. Stat. § 181.67, subd. 1 (1990) (wage differential based on sex impermissible unless made pursuant to "seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production or a differential based on any other factor other than sex"); Danz v. Jones, 263 N.W.2d 395, 402 (Minn. 1978) (noting that majority of courts allow education as proper basis for wage differential); Kolstad v. Fairway Foods, Inc., 457 N.W.2d 728, 734 (Minn. App. 1990) (indicating that bona fide merit system would justify wage differential). Second, there is no evidence that respondent is using the degree requirement to exclude American Indians from the higher pay scale. Third, the evidence establishes that non-degreed Caucasians, as well as non-degreed American Indians, have been paid less than degreed teachers. Fourth, differentiating wages based on degrees is a long-standing policy of respondent and was not implemented to exclude eminence teachers. Fifth, respondent employs an American Indian preference hiring policy. For these reasons, appellants failed to show that they were unfairly singled out for discriminatory treatment because of their race or that respondent had a discriminatory motive.[3] The evidence reflects that a teacher's degree, not the teacher's race, is the basis for the wage differential at issue here.

Absent a discriminatory motive, an employment practice or policy could nevertheless have a disparate impact on a protected class. See Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 11 (1992); Khalifa v. State, 397 N.W.2d 383, 388 (Minn. App. 1986). A disparate impact claim is shown by the following: first, the complaining party must show that the employment practice is responsible for a statistically significant impact on a particular class of persons; second, the employer must justify the practice by demonstrating it (a) is manifestly related to the job or (b) significantly furthers an important business purpose; and third, if the employer justifies the practice, a complaining party may prevail upon demonstration of a comparably effective practice that the court finds would cause a significantly lesser adverse impact on the identified protected class. See Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 11.

For purposes of this appeal, we assume that appellants established a statistically significantly adverse impact of the degree requirement on American Indians. Apparently, all current non-degreed teachers employed by respondent are eminence teachers, and eminence teachers are most likely, due to their qualifications, to be American Indian.[4] We also conclude there is no fact question on the adequate justification for the degree requirement. As in the disparate treatment claim, respondent's justification was to improve the quality of the teaching staff. The record indicates that teaching degrees cover both a content area and teaching skills, whereas the special eminence license covers only a content area. Appellants also have not offered any facts indicating that their experience or education is the same or equivalent to the degreed teachers. Therefore, there was no factual dispute that the degree requirement furthers the important business purpose "to improve the education of the District's children" by encouraging eminence and other non-degreed teachers to obtain degrees.

The third element of the adverse impact cause of action, however, requires appellants to establish "a comparably effective practice" that would have a "significantly lesser adverse impact" on the eminence teachers. We find no support for this element in the record. Appellants' affidavits show that they have received a varying number of college credits, attended workshops, and received some supervision. There is no evidence that these experiences are comparable to those of degreed teachers. Nor is there evidence that these experiences are as effective in producing high quality teachers as the course work required to obtain and maintain a degree. Cf. Scott v. University of Del., 455 F.Supp. 1102, 1124-26 (D. Del. 1978) (evaluating requirement of "Ph.D or its equivalent" and noting that no alternative criterion was suggested). Appellants' assertion that they work as hard as degreed teachers does not create a material issue of disputed fact to defeat summary judgment for respondent on the disparate impact claim. See, e.g., Pischke v. Kellen, 384 N.W.2d 201, 205 (Minn. App. 1986) (material fact affects result or outcome of case).


[ ]1 On appeal from the district court's first summary judgment in this matter, this court held that the district court did not have jurisdiction to review a school board decision, and the matter could be reviewed only by writ of certiorari. Kingbird v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 38, No. C8-94-63 (Minn. App. Aug. 9, 1994) (unpublished). The procedural disposition of that appeal rendered the substantive issues moot. Application of the American Indian Education Act to this case is ripe for review in this appeal from the district court's second summary judgment.

[ ]2 Initially, the district court summarily granted dismissal of appellants' discrimination count. On appeal from that judgment, this court remanded "for more specific findings and rationale." Kingbird v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 38, C1-95-2053 (Minn. App. Mar. 12, 1996) (unpublished). This appeal is from the district court's findings, conclusions, and order on remand.

[ ]3 Drafters of the American Indian Education Act anticipated possible claims of discrimination arising out of the Act's provisions. The Act cautions that

[n]othing in the provisions of sections 126.45 to 126.55 shall be construed to violate the provisions of section 127.08 or chapter 363 [the MHRA]. Programs and activities pursuant to sections 126.45 to 126.55 shall be deemed to be positive action programs to combat discrimination.

Minn. Stat. § 126.55 (1992).

[ ]4 Respondent's American Indian teacher hiring preference policy could impact the statistics.