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Case of the Month: August 2010

Cragun's Resort settles charge of discrimination in employment based on marital status

CASE #54093 CLOSED 6-29-10

Charging Party

Michael Wolf
Brainerd, MN

Respondent

Cragun's Resort
11000 Cragun's Dr.
Brainerd, MN 56401

The following information is a summary of the department's findings and contains excerpts from other public documents relevant to this case.

Factual Basis of the Allegations — What the Charging Party Alleged

Michael Wolf worked in the kitchen at Cragun's Resort, and while on the job, he fell and injured his back. His doctor provided a note for his employer, restricting Wolf from lifting anything heavier than ten pounds and from driving. A few days later, the doctor decided that the driving restriction was not necessary, and provided Wolf with another note to that effect. When Wolf drove to work to get his paycheck the next day, he told a supervisor that he was now permitted to drive. But he had brought the wrong note, Wolf discovered, so he promised to bring in the new note the next day. That would be all right, the supervisor said. Wolf picked up his check and returned to his car, where his wife had been waiting for him. As the couple sat in the vehicle, the supervisor approached and began taking pictures of Mr. Wolf, telling him he was not supposed to be driving. The supervisor's approach and picture-taking startled Wolf's wife, who became upset. A heated argument ensued between the supervisor and Mrs. Wolf, and Mr. Wolf eventually drove off.

When Mr. Wolf arrived back at work later that day to work an evening shift, his supervisor told him he was suspended "indefinitely." The supervisor handed him a written note, which said in part that he was suspended because his wife had just telephoned several Cragun's employees, threatening to sue Cragun's over the incident earlier that day. The supervisor then had a security guard escort Mr. Wolf out of the the building.

Within the week, after a conversation with Cragun's workers' compensation carrier, the employer telephoned Mr. Wolf and told him he could return to work in housekeeping on light duty. Wolf went back to work in housekeeping. About six months later, a supervisor told him the company was downsizing due to lack of business, and Wolf was terminated. However, the month after he had been let go, he learned that his job had been posted at his work site, and Cragun's had also placed a newspaper ad seeking applicants for full and part-time positions. Wolf also learned that other employees who had been laid off due to downsizing had been called back to work, but he had not been. He telephoned the supervisor who had let him go, left a message, and asked her to call. He asked a friend who still worked at Cragun's to let his supervisor know that he was still looking for a job. But he never heard back from his former employer, and soon learned that several others had been hired or rehired to work in the housekeeping department.

Wolf filed a charge with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging that Cragun's Resort had discriminated against him on the basis of marital status — that he had been subjected to differential treatment because of the behavior of his wife. He also alleged that his martial status and that his association with his wife, who has a disability, were the reasons he was later terminated and not rehired. (Under the Human Rights Act, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee because that individual chooses to associate with a person who has a disability, or a particular status with respect to another protected characteristic.)

Summary of the Commissioner's Memorandum — What the Department's Investigation Found

In answering the charge, the respondent argued that Wolf was laid off, along with other employees, due to lack of business. He was not rehired due to what a housekeeping manager regarded as his low performance level, compared to other candidates. The individuals who were called back to work had skills and experience in areas that Wolf did not, such as ironing, Cragun's maintained. The respondent did not provide evidence to dispute Wolf's claim that he had originally been suspended because of the actions of his spouse.

The department did not find probable cause to believe that Cragun's decision to terminate Wolf, and not rehire him, was due to discrimination. Wolf's allegation that Cragun's had engaged in reprisal by terminating him because of his association with his wife (who has a disability) was not supported by the department's investigation.

However, the department did find probable cause to believe that Cragun's violated the Act, when it originally suspended Wolf. In documentation supplied by both the charging party and the respondent, the respondent admitted that it had suspended Wolf in part due to a disturbance caused by his wife. "The Department, therefore, reasonably concludes that the respondent violated the marital status protections of the Human Rights Act when its management suspended the charging party because of his wife's actions," the department found.

Terms of Settlement

In a negotiated settlement, Cragun's Resort agreed:

  • To pay $5,000 to Michael Wolf;
  • To provide Wolf with a positive letter of recommendation regarding his skills and abilities as an employee;
  • To provide one hour of training on the fair employment provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, including, specifically, provisions related to accommodations for individuals with mental health disabilities and marital status, for all Minnesota managers, supervisors, and human resources personnel; and
  • To review and revise existing policies as needed to ensure compliance with the Act.

The Department of Human Rights publishes information about selected cases and settlement agreements, including its "Case of the Month," as part of its mandate under the Human Rights Act to "educate to eliminate" discrimination. Settlement agreements do not constitute an admission of any liability, an admission of a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act or any other law, or an admission of wrongdoing by the respondents.