This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998)


Gary Welter,


Kari Christensen,

Filed November 23, 1999
Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded
Toussaint, Chief Judge

Redwood County District Court
File No. C298100

James B. O'Leary, O'Leary & Moritz, Chartered, 102 North Marshall Street, P.O. Box 76, Springfield, MN 56087 (for respondent)

Daniel B. Honsey, Kraft, Walser, Hettig & Honsey, PLLP, 131 South Main Street, P.O. Box 129, Hutchinson, MN 55350 (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Willis, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

Respondent Gary Welter brought an action against his tenant, appellant Kari Christensen, for coercion and defamation, the latter of which was dismissed upon motion for summary judgment. Christensen then brought a countersuit against Welter for unfair discriminatory practices in violation of Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 2, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court dismissed Welter's claim for coercion, dismissed Christensen's emotional distress claim, and granted Christensen's claim for unfair discriminatory practices but denied all claims for damages, costs, disbursements and attorney fees. On appeal, Christensen argues that the trial court erred in denying her claims for compensatory and mental anguish damages, costs, fees, and disbursements. Because we affirm the trial court's finding of unfair discriminatory practice, we reverse on the issue of costs and disbursements. We also affirm the trial court's denial of compensatory and mental anguish damages. We affirm the denial of attorney fees except the attorney fees incurred in the prosecution of Christensen's counterclaim. We remand to the trial court for a calculation of appellant's costs and disbursements and attorney fees claims related to the prosecution of the counterclaim.


Christensen claims that the trial court should have awarded her compensatory damages pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 363.071, subd. 2. The district court has broad discretion in its determination of damages, and the appellate court will not reverse the decision absent a clear abuse of discretion. Admiral Merchants Motor Freight, Inc. v. O'Connor & Hannan, 494 N.W.2d 261, 267 (Minn. 1992) (citation omitted); see Hughes v. Sinclair Mktg., Inc., 389 N.W.2d 194, 199 (Minn. 1986) (stating that reviewing court will not disturb an "award of damages unless failure to do so would be shocking or would result in plain injustice") (citations omitted). Moreover, a trial court's findings as to an award of damages under the Minnesota Human Rights Act will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. Kohn v. City of Minneapolis Fire Dep't, 583 N.W.2d 7, 14 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Oct. 20, 1998). The Minnesota Human Rights Acts provides that if the trial court finds an unfair discriminatory practice, the trial court shall order payment of "compensatory damages in an amount up to three times the actual damages sustained." Minn. Stat. § 363.071, subd. 2 (1998). Christensen claims actual damages in the amount of $640.[1] In its discussion of compensatory damages under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the trial court stated, "[A]lthough the Court has found that sexual harassment and an unfair discriminatory practice occurred, there is no basis to support [the] claim for compensatory damages." The record supports the trial court's conclusion that Christensen did not prove that her compensatory damages claim resulted from Welter's discriminatory practices. We affirm the trial court's denial of compensatory damages.

Christianson also contends the trial court should have awarded "damages for mental anguish or suffering." Id. "An award of mental anguish damages may be based on subjective testimony." Kohn, 583 N.W.2d at 14 (citation omitted). "Mental anguish need not be severe or accompanied by physical injury." Bradley v. Hubbard, 471 N.W.2d 670, 677 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Aug. 2, 1991). The record indicates Christensen experienced mental suffering as evidenced by nightmares, fearfulness, and crying bouts. On this record we cannot say that the trial court erred in concluding that Christensen "did not suffer the mental anguish and intimidation many * * * sexually harassed victims suffer" and hence "was not damaged in a way that could be compensated monetarily." Appellate courts defer to district court credibility determinations. Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988). We affirm the district court's denial of mental anguish damages.

Christensen also claims that she was entitled to attorney fees. On review, the appellate court will not reverse a trial court's award or denial of attorney fees absent an abuse of discretion. Becker v. Alloy Hardfacing & Eng'g, 401 N.W.2d 655, 661 (Minn. 1987). In an action claiming violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, a district court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party reasonable attorney fees. Minn. Stat. § 363.14, subd. 3, see also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429, 104 S. Ct. 1933 (1983) (holding that prevailing plaintiff should receive reasonable attorney fees unless special circumstances render such an award unjust); Sigurdson v. Isanti County, 433 N.W.2d 910 (Minn. App. 1988) (stating attorney fees should be awarded to prevailing party in sex discrimination case); Tretter v. Liquipak Int'l Inc., 356 N.W.2d 713 (Minn. App. 1984) (allowing attorney fees in sexual-harassment case). Because Christensen is a prevailing party in her discriminatory practices claim and the record does not contain evidence that such an award would be unjust, she is entitled to attorney fees.

The trial court based its denial of attorney fees on its conclusion that Christensen "attempted to pressure, intimidate, and threaten" Welter into paying her a sum of money in order to avoid a sexual harassment suit. The trial court stated that awarding attorney fees would be unjustified as a matter of law and equity. Because it is within the trial court's discretion, we affirm, in part, the denial of attorney fees. However, we reverse and remand to the trial court for a determination of attorney fees for Christensen's successful prosecution of the unfair discriminatory practices claim.

Christensen claims she was entitled to costs and disbursements. The standard of review on decisions of costs is whether the trial court abused its discretion. Radloff v. First American Nat'l Bank, 470 N.W.2d 154, 156 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991). The trial court shall allow reasonable costs to a prevailing party in a trial court action. Benigni v. County of St. Louis, 585 N.W.2d 51, 54 (Minn. 1998); Minn. Stat. § 549.02 (1998). The Minnesota Supreme Court defines prevailing party as "one in whose favor the decision or verdict is rendered and judgment entered." Borchert v. Maloney, 581 N.W.2d 838, 840 (Minn. 1998). In its order and judgment of January 13, 1998, the trial court ruled against Welter on the merits of his case, but granted Christensen's sexual harassment and unfair discriminatory practices claim. Because Christensen is the prevailing party, the trial court abused its discretion when it denied costs and disbursements. Accordingly, we reverse and remand the trial court's decision to deny costs and disbursements.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

[1] On appeal, Christensen does not claim the extra $300 for moving expenses, included in her original counterclaim and instead states she is entitled to the $500 damage deposit and $140 reimbursement for satellite installation.