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Lee v. Regents of the University of Minnesota

November 25, 2003

JONG LEE, APPELLANT,
v.
REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



Hennepin County District Court File No. CT-01-00036

Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Harten, Judge; and Anderson, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

SYLLABUS

1. The district court has jurisdiction to consider claims based on statutory causes of action notwithstanding a grievance panel order that would otherwise be subject to certiorari review.

2. A Phase III panel determination stating both that the grievant is not entitled to relief and that the university/employer is to refrain from impeding the grievant's professional future, without a written agreement stating otherwise, does not create contractual rights enforceable by the grievant.

3. The Uniform Arbitration Act does not apply where a party has failed to seek arbitration or in the absence of a written agreement to arbitrate a claim.

4. The failure to file a complaint alleging an unfair labor practice with the commissioner precludes litigation of the claim in district court under the Public Employees Labor Relations Act.

5. A property owner is only required to give reasonable notice of intent to terminate a license to a licensee with personal property on the owner's premises.

6. The Minnesota Whistleblower Act, Minn. Stat. § 181.932 (2002), extends protection only to current employees and not individuals without an employment relationship at the time of the alleged wrongful act.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Appellant Jong Lee challenges the district court's grant of summary judgment arguing that (1) the district court was correct in determining the court had jurisdiction to review the Phase III panel decision; (2) the district court erred in determining the Phase III panel decision did not create enforceable contract rights; (3) the Minnesota Uniform Arbitration Act ("UAA"), Minn. Stat. § 572.18 (2002), and the Public Employee Labor Relations Act ("PELRA"), Minn. Stat. § 179A.13, subd. 1 (2002), apply to a Phase III panel decision; (4) the district court erred in dismissing Lee's wrongful eviction claim because she was not given proper notice; and (5) the district court erred in dismissing her whistleblower claim because the university retaliated against her when it chose not to inform university employees of the directive stated in the Phase III panel's decision. Because we conclude that the district court did not err in its decision to grant summary judgment on all counts, we affirm.

FACTS

Appellant Jong Lee was an employee of the University of Minnesota's Medical School from 1987 through 1998. Appellant is both female and a United States citizen of Korean national origin. Respondent university employed the other named respondents at various times and in various capacities.

In 1992, the university hired appellant as an unpaid visiting scholar in Dr. John Winklemann's lab. While there, Winklemann permitted appellant to work on appellant's protein project focusing on the development of pure human antibodies. Appellant showed Winklemann a report about her development and claims that Winklemann took a sample, along with her paper reporting her invention, and used the information without appellant's authorization in a 1993 grant proposal. Appellant reported the incident to the university, but to no avail. After a second objection, a university patent attorney allegedly determined that the protein invention was in fact appellant's. In June 1993, the university waived its rights to commercialization of the invention, and that same year, appellant applied for a patent, subsequently granted in 1998.

In August 1994, Dr. Thomas F. Ferris (a named defendant) and Dr. Silvia Azar appointed appellant to a 20% research associate position in the Renal Diseases and Hypertension Division in the Department of Medicine. Her position was temporary and annually renewable. Appellant continued her own experiments in Azar's lab on her own time, with her own money, and with Azar's permission. ...


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