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Langeslag v. KYMN Inc.

July 17, 2003

SHARON LANGESLAG, APPELLANT,
v.
KYMN INC., A/K/A KYMN RADIO, ET AL., RESPONDENTS, JEFF JOHNSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The district court erred in submitting respondent's counterclaim for intentional infliction of emotional distress to the jury because appellant's conduct in filing false police reports, threatening to take legal action and engaging in workplace arguments does not rise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct required under Hubbard v. United Press International, Inc., 330 N.W.2d 428 (Minn. 1983).

In an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim involving complex medical issues, a claimant's testimony regarding emotional distress and inconclusive medical records is insufficient to establish a causal relationship between the conduct at issue and the claimant's emotional distress.

Reversed and remanded.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, Justice.

OPINION

Appellant Sharon Langeslag brought this action against her former employer, KYMN Inc., and Wayne Eddy, the principal owner of KYMN.*fn1 Eddy brought an intentional infliction of emotional distress counterclaim against Langeslag. After a jury trial, Langeslag moved to dismiss Eddy's counterclaim. The district court denied her motion and submitted the issue to the jury. The jury found that Langeslag intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Eddy and awarded him $535,000. Langeslag then moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), a new trial and remittitur. The court denied her motions. The court of appeals affirmed. We reverse.

KYMN is an AM radio station located in Northfield, Minnesota and is principally owned by Wayne Eddy. In August 1996, Eddy hired Sharon Langeslag for an outside sales position. Eddy and Langeslag had a combative and volatile relationship from the beginning. They both admitted that communication between them frequently resulted in heated arguments and shouting matches. Langeslag also frequently threatened to sue Eddy and KYMN and had difficulty working amicably with other KYMN employees.

The incident that gave rise to Langeslag's whistleblower claim occurred in January 1998. Eddy was involved in an incident in KYMN's parking lot that led to his arrest. Langeslag witnessed a part of the incident, and subsequently gave a statement to the police. Felony charges were brought against Eddy and Langeslag testified against Eddy at his criminal trial in August 1999. Ultimately, Eddy was convicted of a petty misdemeanor. Eddy testified that he was not aware that Langeslag reported his conduct to police until February 1999.

In April 1998, concerns about Langeslag's ability to work well with other employees and her "general overall attitude" were addressed at KYMN's board meeting. The board minutes of the June 6, 1988 meeting state the following:

Sharon Langeslag: Continued conflicts with other employees, especially [Eddy]. Threatening and insubordinate; Will not take vacation earned; Reiterate to employees to document all problems with Langslag [sic].

Eddy testified that he ceased having weekly sales meetings because Langeslag's behavior at the meetings was disruptive. In 1997 and again in 1998, Eddy gave Langeslag the opportunity to work from her home and offered to provide the necessary office equipment and supplies. Langeslag refused the offer. However, in January 1999, due to escalating tensions, Langeslag began working from home.

Langeslag brought this action against KYMN and Eddy in June 1999. She alleged breach of contract, violation of Minnesota's whistle-blower statute (Minn. Stat. §á181.932 (2002)), sexual harassment, reprisal, and aiding and abetting in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) (Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 1(2), subd. 6 and subd. 7 (2002)), failure to pay wages, assault, intentional interference with contract, retaliation for serving a complaint, violation of Minnesota's equal pay act (Minn. Stat. §á181.66 – 181.71 (2002)), wrongful and retaliatory termination, defamation and slander. Eddy counterclaimed, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and intentional interference with a contractual relationship. On October 28, 1999, Eddy terminated Langeslag, citing her inability to work with other staff members and deficient job performance.

Respondents then moved for summary judgment on all of Langeslag's claims. The district court granted summary judgment on Langeslag's claim of retaliation for serving a complaint, but denied summary judgment on the other claims. Langeslag withdrew her defamation and slander claims. The district court bifurcated the trial: Langeslag's whistle-blower and MHRA claims would be litigated before the judge and the remaining claims would be tried before a jury. The jury trial was held first. At the conclusion of Eddy's case to the jury, Langeslag moved to dismiss Eddy's intentional infliction of emotional distress, interference with a contract, and defamation counterclaims.*fn2 The district court denied Langeslag's motion and submitted the following issues to the jury: Langeslag's breach of contract claim; and Eddy's defamation, intentional interference with a contractual relationship and intentional infliction of emotional distress counterclaims.*fn3 The jury returned a special verdict form finding in favor of Eddy on all issues. Specifically, the jury found that KYMN did not breach its employment contract with Langeslag, Langeslag did defame Eddy and/or KYMN Radio, Langeslag did intentionally interfere with KYMN's contractual relationship, ...


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