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Chubboy v. Best Buy Co. Inc.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 16, 2013

Brian Chubboy, Appellant,
v.
Best Buy Co., Inc., et al., Respondents.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-10-18517

Steven A. Sondrall, Jensen Sondrall & Persellin, P.A., Brooklyn Park, Minnesota (for appellant)

Joseph W. Anthony, Brooke D. Anthony, Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondents)

Considered and decided by Johnson, Chief Judge; Ross, Judge; and Bjorkman, Judge.

ROSS, Judge

After more than two years of complaining about a wide range of company policies, procedures, and business decisions, Brian Chubboy was fired from his position as a procurement manager at Best Buy Stores. He sued his employer, alleging that his discharge was retaliation for his reports of supposedly illegal activities—reports that, according to him, were protected under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. Chubboy appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in Best Buy's favor, arguing that the district court erred by refusing to consider his supplemental affidavit; that it abused its discretion by determining that his chosen expert witness was not qualified; and that it erred when it determined that Chubboy did not meet his burden of showing that he engaged in conduct protected by the Act, that there was a causal connection between his reports and his termination, and that Best Buy's stated reason for his termination was a pretext for retaliation. Because Chubboy fails to establish a causal link between any protected conduct and his termination, and because he fails to show that Best Buy's reason for discharging him was pretextual, we affirm.

FACTS

Best Buy Stores, L.P., hired Brian Chubboy as a procurement manager in 2004, and the company assigned him to its private label group in 2006. That group was responsible for managing products developed by Best Buy for in-store sales under its in-house brand names.

Chubboy asserts that he began complaining about a host of things in 2007. He complained to his supervisor that Best Buy's product development and acquisition procedures violated antitrust laws by raising unfair barriers for American companies and by improperly sharing competitors' trade secrets. He claims that he also reported "extensive bribery, illegal bid manipulation, bid collusion, bid rigging, refusing to deal, creating barriers to entry, threats, and corrupt business practices" in Best Buy's Asia office. After he elevated his concerns to an in-house Best Buy attorney, Chubboy complains that his supervisor "retaliat[ed] [by] reduc[ing] interaction and communication." He also alleges that she "dramatically reduced the cell phone calls during and after work hours to [his] personal cell phone, " denied his tardy reimbursement requests, and limited his business-travel opportunities. Chubboy maintains that his supervisor criticized his commitment to the company's values, "defame[d] [his] character and persecuted [him] in weekly 1:1 sessions, " required him to complete "a step by step action plan, " and withheld from him incentive-based stock options. There was no mention of his alleged report on his next annual performance review.

In December 2008, Chubboy joined the technical advisory board for Symwave, Inc., a company that was seeking an investment from Best Buy. After discovering a press release announcing Chubboy's Symwave position, Chubboy's supervisor confronted him and told him that she was "very disappointed" that he had not informed her of his membership on Symwave's board. She stated that it was a conflict of interest in violation of Best Buy's employee policies. Accenture, an independent company retained by Best Buy, investigated, finding that Chubboy had violated Best Buy's conflict-of-interest policies by failing to report his relationship with Symwave as a potential conflict of interest and by using Best Buy facilities to host a meeting with Symwave. Chubboy denied having any conflict of interest.

Best Buy discharged Chubboy in April 2009, ostensibly for violating its conflict-of-interest policy. Chubboy sued, alleging that Best Buy had illegally manipulated bids, committed fraud, acquiesced in violations of Chinese labor laws, failed to enforce agreements in violation of its obligations to shareholders, violated its own corporate governance policies, shared other companies' proprietary information, and violated confidentiality agreements. He asserted that retaliation for his reports about "these federal law violations" was the true reason for his termination, and he sought damages and attorney fees under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.

After a lengthy discovery period, Best Buy moved for summary judgment in October 2011. It had recently deposed Chubboy over the course of three days in August and October. In January 2012, the district court granted Chubboy's request for an additional discovery period limited to meeting outstanding discovery requests. The district court granted Best Buy's motion to exclude Chubboy's expert witness on April 26, 2012. Chubboy again asked to extend the discovery period, this time to obtain another expert witness, and the district court again granted his motion and allowed him to conduct another deposition.

Months after his own deposition, Chubboy executed a supplemental affidavit on July 24, 2012. In it, he alleged that he had made numerous previously undisclosed reports of "wrongful conduct" at Best Buy in 2008 and 2009 during one-on-one conversations with his supervisor. He also asserted that she had retaliated for the 2008 reports by stating that he would not be eligible for a "good raise" or a promotion, by suggesting he meet with the human-resources department to "discuss [his] career goals, " by criticizing his work performance, and by "stating [that he] was not living and teaching Best Buy values." He alleged further that his supervisor retaliated by initiating a peer-review process, by requiring him to attend counseling, by ordering him to make reports that she did not require of other employees, and by denying him business-travel opportunities. Chubboy asserted additionally that his supervisor pursued the conflict-of-interest investigation into his board membership with Symwave as an act of retaliation. He maintained that he never received instructions to recuse himself and that he had no conflict of interest because Symwave was not a competitor or supplier to Best Buy. And he asserted ...


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