STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
John J. Henry,
University of Minnesota,
Filed July 13, 1999
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 979868
Mark Rotenberg, General Counsel, Mark A. Bohnhorst, Associate General Counsel, Office of the General Counsel, 325 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
John J. Henry appeals from summary judgment entered in favor of respondent University of Minnesota. Because we conclude that Henry failed to file a claim of unfair discrimination practice within the statutory time period and that the University is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment.
A claim of unfair discriminatory practice must be brought, either as a civil suit or as a charge with the state or a local human rights commission, "within one year after the occurrence of the practice." Minn. Stat. § 363.06, subd. 3 (1998). In this case, Henry received notice on June 16, 1994, that his position would be terminated due to budgetary considerations. However, he did not file a charge alleging discriminatory treatment in employment based on race and reprisal with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) until July 20, 1995, more than one year after the occurrence.
Although this one-year period is tolled or suspended during the time the parties voluntarily engage in some kind of dispute resolution process, "that process must still involv[e] a claim of unlawful discrimination." Id.
The salary grievance procedure engaged in here by Henry did not involve a claim of unlawful discrimination. Rather, it encompassed only whether the University had properly followed its guidelines for granting raises and terminating employee positions, and whether the University had breached an implied contract of continuing employment with Henry. Any collateral discussion regarding the University's lack of a true commitment to diversity did not convert the grievance procedure into a review of specific discriminatory practices against Henry based on race. See Carter v. Peace Officers Standards & Training Bd., 558 N.W.2d 267, 273 (Minn. App. 1997) ("issues" or "concerns" about incidents raised in letters to various involved organizations did not amount to complaints involving practice forbidden under MHRA). Specificity in charging is a requirement that has been consistently enforced. Cf. State, by Beaulieu v. RSJ, Inc., 552 N.W.2d 695, 699-700 (Minn. 1996) (statute of limitations barred suit against individual defendant where appellant failed to name defendant in suit against corporation owned by individual defendant); Anderson v. Northwestern Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 480 N.W.2d 363, 365 (Minn. App. 1992) (filing should provide formal notice to employer of charges made against it).
Likewise, a dispute resolution process must have a logical connection to the subject matter of a lawsuit under the MHRA in order to toll the statute of limitations. A party cannot use the dispute resolution process merely as a vehicle to investigate and test the viability of a cause of action. See AFSCME Dist. Council No. 14 v. Minneapolis Community Dev. Agency, 520 N.W.2d 453, 455, n.1 (Minn. App. 1994) (statute of limitations would be tolled if matter in arbitration had involved a claim of unlawful discrimination under MHRA). A review of the grievance transcript reveals no specific facts to support Henry's contention that the hearing involved a claim of unlawful discrimination within the terms of the MHRA. See Kletschka v. Abbott-Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 417 N.W.2d 752, 754 (Minn. App. 1998) (party cannot rely on mere general statements, but must demonstrate specific facts which create a genuine issue in opposing summary judgment), review denied (Minn. Mar. 30, 1988).
The district court's grant of summary judgment based on the running of the statute of limitations is therefore affirmed.