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Nuvit Alagok v. State of Minnesota

April 22, 2013

NUVIT ALAGOK, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT.



Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CV-11-1417

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

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).

Affirmed

Considered and decided by Johnson, Chief Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

CHUTICH, Judge

Appellant Nuvit Alagok challenges the summary-judgment dismissal of her claim of discriminatory discharge on the basis of national origin, religion, and gender. Alagok argues that the district court erred by determining that no genuine issue of material fact existed, by rejecting her "cat's paw" theory of discrimination, and by applying a same-actor inference to her claims. Because the district court properly granted summary judgment on all of Alagok's claims, we affirm.

FACTS

Alagok is a Muslim woman originally from Turkey who has resided in the United States for 14 years. After being terminated from her probationary position with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (the department), Alagok asserted a number of discrimination claims against the department. The following are the relevant and, unless otherwise noted, undisputed underlying facts.

In April 2009, the department hired Alagok as an entry-level transportation associate. Transportation associates clear snow and debris from roadways to ensure the safe flow of traffic. As one of the top-ranking applicants for the position, Alagok received her first choice of station and shift, and she selected the day shift at the Maple Grove truck station. Alagok was hired for a one-year probationary period. If she successfully completed the probationary period, Alagok would become a permanent transportation generalist.

Alagok's supervisor at the Maple Grove station was John Hanzalik. Hanzalik advocated for Alagok during the hiring process because he wanted her to be placed at the Maple Grove station. Hanzalik assigned Alagok to drive with Ray Kroyer, a transportation generalist, during her probationary period. Alagok claimed that Kroyer said "all Muslims are terrorists." Alagok was aware of the department's complaint process, but she never filed a formal complaint about Kroyer's statements.

At Alagok's three-month evaluation, Hanzalik found that she generally "meets expectations." He also noted that "culture differences and language differences are sometimes a challenge for all of us, we just continue communicating."

On July 20, 2009, Alagok took an unpaid leave to travel to Turkey for family reasons. During her leave, Hanzalik was diagnosed with cancer. Alagok alleges that shortly after Hanzalik's diagnosis and her return from leave, Hanzalik's attitude towards her changed drastically. Hanzalik yelled at Alagok numerous times for her performance and, on at least one occasion, yelled at her in his office with the door open so her co-workers could hear his criticisms. Alagok claims that Hanzalik teased her about her inability to speak English and how she pronounced certain words. Alagok never filed a formal complaint about Hanzalik's behavior.

Because of Hanzalik's illness, some of his supervisory duties were assigned to William Augello, a senior transportation generalist at the Maple Grove station. Augello began to supervise Alagok and was concerned about her performance. On September 21, 2009, Augello gave Alagok a non-disciplinary warning for not responding to a call from dispatch ordering her to remove debris from the roadway. Rather than following the instructions, Alagok remained in the truck station and ate her lunch. Alagok thought, apparently mistakenly, that she had already picked up the piece of debris. When he coached her about this incident, Augello thought that she had a "cavalier" and ...


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