Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-11-17342
Andrew Gene Birkeland, R. Daniel Rasmus, Rasmus Law Office, LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)
Louise A. Behrendt, Kirsten Jean Hansen, Stich Angeli Kreidler Dodge & Unke, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Smith, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.
In this appeal from a judgment dismissing appellant's claims of age and disability discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), appellant argues that he established prima facie cases of age and disability discrimination and that the employer's proffered reason for terminating his employment was pretextual. We affirm.
Appellant Thomas Brown-Rojina worked for respondent Minneapolis Glass, Inc., as a glass cutter and fabricator. During his employment, appellant sustained a number of work-related injuries, including apparent heat stroke and a deep cut to a tendon in his leg, which resulted in his transfer to the light-duty shower-door department. Appellant received workers' compensation benefits for some of these injuries.
After sustaining a work-related back injury in June 2010, appellant was absent from work for almost three weeks. When he returned, he was assigned to the glass filming department for light-duty work, but, at his request, was reassigned to the shower-door department. Respondent modified appellant's job duties in the shower-door department to accommodate his work restrictions.
Early during the workday on Friday, August 6, 2010, several employees observed appellant exhibiting signs of intoxication, including staggering, talking loudly and obnoxiously, slurring his speech, swearing, acting belligerently, sitting in a chair with his eyes closed (apparently asleep), and lying down on the floor. Appellant's supervisor Jay Weide observed appellant arguing with and swearing at other employees. When an employee mentioned that appellant "smell[ed] like a brewery, " Weide walked over to appellant and smelled the odor of alcohol. Appellant's behavior that day was inconsistent with his normal behavior at work, and two employees testified that appellant's behavior was consistent with his behavior at social events when he had been drinking.
Weide reported his observations to company vice president Tom Stadler. Stadler went to investigate and found appellant lying on the floor in an office with his eyes closed and instructed him to stand up. When appellant stood, Stadler smelled "a very, very strong alcohol odor." Stadler observed that appellant's eyes were very bloodshot and his speech was slurred. Stadler told appellant: "[I]t's apparent you've been drinking this morning. You don't appear to be normal. You're not speaking clearly and you smell like alcohol and I don't think it's safe for you here." Appellant responded that he had two beers the previous evening, that he was able to work, and that he was not an alcoholic. Stadler escorted appellant out of the building and sent him home.
When respondent's president Jennifer Lang arrived at work on August 6, 2010, Weide and Stadler told her that "several employees had noticed . . . strange behavior and a smell of alcohol" coming from appellant and that they had sent him home because they believed he was intoxicated. Before deciding to terminate appellant, Lang spoke to Weide, Stadler, and at least four other employees about their observations of appellant. Lang decided to terminate appellant "based on a cumulative effect of all the statements, of all the observations" because being intoxicated at work was unacceptable behavior and unsafe for the intoxicated employee and other employees. Lang testified that neither appellant's age nor his workers' compensation status was a factor in the decision.
Appellant was terminated when he reported to work on Monday, August 9, 2010. Sometime in the fall of 2010, respondent offered appellant his job back on the condition ...