may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota,
Filed August 4, 1998
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 979124
Clair E. Schaff, Connor, Satre & Schaff, L.L.P., 580 Lumber Exchange Bldg., 10 South Fifth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Mark B. Rotenberg, General Counsel, Tracy M. Smith, Associate General Counsel, University of Minnesota, 325 Morrill Hall, 100 Church Street S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
Appellant contends the district court erred in concluding that Minnesota Human Rights Act claims barred his contract claim and dismissing that claim. We affirm.
On May 5, 1994, respondent University of Minnesota notified appellant John Humenansky that his employment would be terminated on May 20, 1994. Humenansky brought a federal court action that included state claims of age discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) and breach of contract. Humenansky voluntarily dismissed the state claims; later, the court dismissed the remaining claims.
Humenansky then brought this action in state court, again alleging the MHRA claims and breach of contract claim. Respondent moved to dismiss, arguing that the MHRA claims barred the breach of contract claim and that the MHRA claims were untimely because they were filed in state court more than 30 days after Humenansky voluntarily dismissed them from the federal action. The district court granted respondent's motion. Humenansky agrees that his MHRA claims were properly dismissed as untimely but contends that the district court erred as a matter of law in holding that the MHRA claims barred his breach of contract claim.
The construction of a statute is a question of law and thus fully reviewable by an appellate court. Hibbing Educ. Ass'n v. Public Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985). Construction of the MHRA is therefore reviewed de novo.
Minn. Stat. § 363.11 (1996) provides that "as to acts declared unfair by [Minn. Stat. §] 363.03, the procedure herein provided shall, while pending, be exclusive." Among the acts declared unfair by Minn. Stat. § 363.03 (1996 & Supp. 1997) are those alleged by Humenansky in his complaint: discharging or discriminating against an employee because of age (Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 1(2)(b) and (c) (1996)) and engaging in reprisals against a person who opposed a practice forbidden under the MHRA (Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 7(1) (Supp. 1997)). Humenansky contends that by committing these acts, respondent not only violated the MHRA but also breached a contractual obligation to him.
Humenansky's complaint first describes in detail his relationship with respondent and the events that preceded his termination. He then alleges three claims: age discrimination in violation of the MHRA, retaliation/reprisal in violation of the MHRA, and breach of contract. The breach of contract claim asserts no facts or injuries other than those asserted as the basis for the MHRA claims. Humenansky's complaint shows that he was seeking redress for allegedly discriminatory acts in violation of the MHRA and bringing an action for breach of contract based on the identical factual statements and alleging the same injury or damages.
Certainly, the legislature could not have contemplated that employees seeking redress for allegedly discriminatory employment action could simultaneously maintain an action relating to the same allegedly discriminatory practice and predicated on identical factual statements and alleging the same injury or damages. The language of the [MHRA] does not support such an interpretation and we decline to judicially fashion such relief.
Williams v. St. Paul Ramsey Medical Ctr., Inc., 551 N.W.2d 483, 485 (Minn. 1996)
(rejecting view that MHRA claims did not bar claims made under whistleblower act); see also Sullivan v. Spot Weld, Inc., 560 N.W.2d 712, 717 (Minn. App. 1997) (quoting Williams and upholding the dismissal of an employee's common-law negligent supervision claim because that claim alleged "discriminatory practices, injuries, and damages identical with those in his MHRA claim" and was barred by MHRA claim), review denied (Minn. Apr. 24, 1997). Williams and Sullivan support the dismissal of Humenansky's contract claim.
Humenansky's attempts to distinguish Williams and Sullivan are unpersuasive. He argues that, unlike the whistleblower claim in Williams and the negligent supervision claim in Sullivan, his breach of contract claim does not rely on MHRA violations. But the only acts described in Humenansky's complaint as the basis for either his MHRA claims or the breach of contract claim are age discrimination and retaliation, both declared unfair by the MHRA. See Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 1(2)(b) (prohibiting discharge on the basis of age); Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 1(2)(c) (prohibiting discrimination with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities, or privileges of employment because of age); Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 7(1) (prohibiting engaging in reprisals against a person who opposed a practice forbidden under MHRA). Humenansky's MHRA claims bar his breach of contract claim, just as MHRA claims barred the whistleblower claim in Williams and the negligent supervision claim in Sullivan.
To oppose the view that MHRA claims preclude common-law claims based on the same facts, Humenansky relies on Wirig v. Kinney Shoe Corp., 461 N.W.2d 374 (Minn. 1990) (holding that an MHRA sexual harassment claim did not bar a common-law battery claim), and Vaughn v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 736 (Minn. 1997) (holding that a MHRA discrimination claim did not bar a common-law claim of negligent failure to assist). Williams distinguished Wirig:
While in Wirig * * *, the plaintiff was authorized to maintain a sexual harassment action under the [MHRA] and a parallel action for common law battery arising from the same facts, we so held because these separate causes of action require different elements of proof and address different injuries. We conclude that that analysis is not appropriate here * * *.
Williams, 551 N.W.2d at 486. Vaughan is similarly distinguishable; the plaintiff there suffered two injuries: one from discrimination in violation of the MHRA and one from the defendant's employees' failure to help her after she said she needed help, in violation of their common-law duty. 558 N.W.2d at 744-45. Unlike the claims of the plaintiffs in Wirig and Vaughan, Humenansky's MHRA claims and breach of contract claim require the same elements of proof and address the same injury.
The district court did not err in concluding that the MHRA barred Humenansky's breach of contract claim and dismissing the action.