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Prince v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 14, 2014

Lily Prince, Plaintiff,
Electrolux Home Products, Inc., Defendant.

John J. Neal, Esq., Willenbring, Dahl, Wocken & Zimmermann, PLLC, counsel for Plaintiff.

Keith L. Pryatel, Esq., Kastner Westman & Wilkins, LLC; and Andrew E. Tanick, Esq., Ford & Harrison LLP, counsel for Defendant.


DONOVAN W. FRANK, District Judge.


This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss brought by Electrolux Home Products, Inc. ("Defendant"). (Doc. No. 7.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion.


Defendant manufactures upright and chest refrigerators. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. 1 ("Compl.") ¶ 7.) Plaintiff Lily Prince ("Plaintiff") began working for Defendant on November 3, 1997. ( Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff worked as a first-shift employee at Defendant's manufacturing plant in St. Cloud, Minnesota. (Compl. ¶¶ 5-8.) The first-shift ran five days per week from 7:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., with a lunch break from 11:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. ( Id. ¶ 9.)

Plaintiff worked as the Scott Line operator in the Line 1 group. ( Id. ¶ 10.) The Scott Line is a large machine that forms steel liners for Defendant's freezers. ( Id. ¶ 12.) As the Scott Line operator, Plaintiff unloaded parts from two separate machines, placed the parts on the Scott Line machine, and then pressed a button that joined the parts together to form the freezer liner. ( Id. ¶ 13.) Once formed, the freezer liner moved down the production line. ( Id. )

Defendant had a collectively-bargained employment policy in place relating to wages, hours, and terms of employment for Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 11, Ex. B ("2006-2009 CBA").)[1] The CBA provides for two ten-minute breaks: one in the first four hours of the shift and one in the second four hours of the shift. (2006-2009 CBA at § 7.8; Doc. No. 23, Ex. B ("2009-2012 CBA") at § 7.8.)[2] While designated simply as a "rest period" or "break, " Defendant contends that the breaks provide time for restroom use. The CBA also provides a grievance procedure and states that if a grievance is not satisfactorily settled through the procedure, the grievance may be submitted to arbitration. ( See generally CBA Articles 13-14.) In such a case, the decision of the Arbitrator shall be binding on both parties. ( Id. § 14.5.)

In addition, in a memorandum dated January 31, 2001, Defendant published and distributed a notice to employees that addressed restroom breaks along the continuously moving appliance production line:

Subject: Opportunity Lost
Our ability to be competitive in our industry requires that we maximize ALL our resources and continually improve our productivity. This letter addresses an area were [sic] we can and need to improve employees' accountability during times of production, specifically when employees leave their work areas during non-break times. Having YOU absent from your work area negatively impacts productivity and the quality of our products. The following expectations and guidelines will be followed:
• Employees should use the nearest room during non-break times so as to not disrupt production.
• When an employee request[s] to use the restroom during work time the leadperson and/or the supervisor must be notified. The length of time and the frequency of requests to leave the work area will be monitored. A reasonable length of time is considered three to seven, (3-7) minutes and no more than twice a day during non-break work time. (Medical necessity to use the restroom more frequently must be supported with appropriate documentation)
• Employees must understand that there is an urgency for them to return to their work area. Employees are not authorized to have a cigarette, use the vending machines, or attend to any other non-work activity.
• Ban the use of cellular phones during non-break times while in the work area.
During production it is our expectation that all employees will do their best to stay in their work areas. The leadperson may relive [sic] employees who request to go to the restroom. The Leadpersons are responsible for several other activities as outlined in our Working Agreement Article 11.6, and may not be able to relieve you from your work area immediately. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.
Section 11.6. Leadpersons' duties will include the performance of work in their regular classifications, replacing absent Employees on their shifts, relieving Employees during Employee rest breaks, making work assignments, training and instructing Employees, and other nonsupervisory duties assigned by their Supervisors. Leadpersons shall not have authority to discipline Employees.

(Doc. No. 23, Ex. A.)[3]

Plaintiff claims to suffer from a medical condition that requires her to use the restroom more frequently. (Compl. ¶ 22.) On August 2, 2012, at approximately 12:45 p.m., Plaintiff needed to use the restroom and motioned for the leadperson, Eric Nguyen ("Nguyen"), to relieve her so she could use the restroom. ( Id. ) Plaintiff claims that Nguyen did not come. ( Id. ) At approximately 1:00 p.m., Plaintiff asked Barb Salner ("Salner"), another employee passing by, to let Nguyen know that Plaintiff needed to use the restroom. ( Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that Salner did so, but Nguyen did not come. ( Id. ) Plaintiff ran back to where Nguyen was standing and asked to use the restroom, but Nguyen told her he was ordering parts. ( Id. ¶ 24.) Roughly thirty minutes later, Nguyen walked by but did not relieve Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 25.) At approximately 1:20 p.m., having not been relieved and fearing retribution for leaving the production line, Plaintiff urinated in a box behind a barrel near her station. ( Id. ¶ 31.) On August 7, 2012, Plaintiff was terminated. ( Id. ¶ 34.)

Plaintiff further alleges that Nguyen had been known not to allow restroom breaks when requested, and on one occasion he set a box next to Plaintiff and told her to urinate in the box instead of the restroom. ( Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff alleges that on another occasion, Nguyen told Plaintiff to urinate in a bucket placed by her station on the line. ( Id. ) Further, Plaintiff alleges that other employees have soiled themselves because they were not relieved from their stations, and one employee resorted to urinating in a bucket because she was not given a restroom break. ( Id. ¶ 28.)

On April 25, 2013, an arbitration hearing was conducted. (Doc. No. 11, Ex. C ("Opinion and Award").) The issue raised during the arbitration was: "Whether [Plaintiff's] August 7, 2012 discharge from employment violated the [CBA]" and if so, "what shall be the remedy?" ( Id. at 1.) In a nearly thirty-page Opinion and Award, the Arbitrator explained in detail the background of Plaintiff's termination. In particular, the Arbitrator noted that on November 16, 2011, Plaintiff was put on a "last chance agreement" as a "final warning" regarding Plaintiff's "unacceptable behavior including insubordination and behaving in an aggressive and harassing manner." ( Id. at 7.) The behavior that led to the "last chance agreement" was not related to bathroom use. ( Id. at 8.) Defendant claimed that Plaintiff's use of the box to urinate on August 2, 2012 constituted a "health and safety violation while on a condition of employment [last ...

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