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Ewald v. Embassy

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 6, 2014

Ellen S. Ewald, Plaintiff,
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Defendant

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Thomas E. Marshall, Sheila A. Engelmeier, and Susanne J. Fischer, Engelmeier & Umanah, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

Daniel G. Wilczek, Joel P. Schroeder, and Sean R. Somermeyer, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendant.


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SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, United States District Judge.


This matter is before the Court on Defendant Royal Norwegian Embassy's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 130]. Defendant submitted a supporting memorandum [Doc. No. 132], three affidavits [Doc. Nos. 133-135], and seven declarations [Doc. Nos. 136-37]. Plaintiff submitted an opposition memorandum [Doc. No. 142], seven declarations [Doc. Nos. 143-49], and an affidavit [Doc. No. 151]. And, Defendants filed a reply brief [Doc. No. 160]. The matter was heard on November 26, 2013. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in part, and denies in part, Defendant's motion.


A. The Parties and Claims

Plaintiff Ellen Ewald (" Plaintiff" or " Ewald" ) is a U.S. citizen and former employee of Defendant Royal Norwegian Embassy (" Defendant" or the " Embassy" ). Ewald brought this lawsuit against the Embassy in July 2011. In her Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 104], she asserts eight claims against the Embassy: promissory estoppel, false representation, gender discrimination, reprisal, retaliatory harassment, violation of the Equal Pay Act, violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, and violation of the Norway Working Environment Act.

B. The New Model Consulate and the Hiring Process

Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs created a New Model Consulate (the " Consulate" ) in Minneapolis in 2008. (Marshall Decl., Ex. I (Strommen Dep. 32-34).) The Consulate was to include two new expert positions--one focused on business and the other on education. (Id.) The Embassy in Washington, D.C., headed by Ambassador Wegger Strommen, was the employer for the two positions. (Id. at 17-21, 41.) However, six Norwegian institutions (the " Stakeholders" ) provided 1.5 million kroner per year in funding for the positions for a three-year trial period. (Id. at 37-38, 57; Index to Stakeholder Decls. ¶ ¶ 1-2.) At the end of the trial period, the Stakeholders could end or extend funding. (Index to Stakeholder Decls. ¶ ¶ 1-2.) The Stakeholders created an advisory committee made up of one representative from each entity, and the committee was chaired by Liv Morch Finborud. (Somermeyer Aff., Ex. X (Finborud Dep. 15-19).)

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On July 3, 2008, Jostein Mykletun, Consul General in Houston, posted the announcement for the two positions: Innovation and Business Development Officer (the " Business Position" ) and Higher Education and Research Officer (the " Education Position" ). (Dep. Ex. 2.) According to the job descriptions, the purpose of the former was to " strengthen commercial relations between the Midwest and Norway within innovation, business development and commerce . . . in team with Innovation Norway," while the purpose of the latter was to " strengthen exchange and networks between the United States and Norway within research and higher education . . . in team with the Science Counselor at the Norwegian Embassy." (Id.) Tasks for the Business Position were to include developing contacts between Norwegian and U.S. businesses, exploring business opportunities, preparing market analyses, facilitating technological exchange, networking, planning visits to the United States by Norwegian partners, and facilitating workshops. (Id.) Tasks for the Education Position were to include working on Science Week, initiating collaborative agreements, keeping an overview of funding opportunities and exchange programs, networking, planning visits to the Midwest for Norwegian colleges, facilitating workshops, and increasing mobility of students and faculty between Norway and the United States. (Id.) The Education Position required an advanced university-level degree, whereas the Business Position required only a university-level degree. (Id.) Both positions reported to the Honorary Consul General (Vice President Walter Mondale) and the Honorary Consul (Gary Gandrud), who served on a volunteer basis. (Id.; Somermeyer Aff., Ex. Y (Gandrud Dep. 26-28).)

These positions were brought to Ewald's attention by an email from Mykletun. (Somermeyer Aff., Ex. W (Ewald Dep. 54).) Ewald expressed interest in the Education Position, and she met with Mykletun to further discuss the positions. (Id. at 55-56; Dep. Ex. 2.) Mykletun explained that the two positions were " parallel" and " equal." (Somermeyer Aff., Ex. W (Ewald Dep. 56).) Mykletun said there was a 1.5 million kroner budget that would be divided between the two positions. (Id. at 57.)

Plaintiff applied for the Education Position on July 17, 2008. (Marshall Aff., Ex. Q.) Plaintiff has a Master's Degree in political science from MIT, as well as professional experience in higher education and teaching. (Dep. Ex. 1.) Ewald was selected for an interview with the Hiring Committee, which consisted of Mondale, Gandrud, and two counselors from the Embassy, Elin Rognlie and Berit Johne. (Marshall Aff., Ex. I (Strommen Dep. 35).) During Ewald's interview, Gandrud said the salary range for the two positions was $40,000 to $70,000, that the Hiring Committee would try to get to the top of the range for both, and that the positions were " equal" and " parallel" and would " work together." (Somermeyer Aff., Ex. W (Ewald Dep. 64, 69, 82).)

Around this same time, Anders Davidson applied for the Business Position. (Dep. Ex. 15.) He has an MBA from the Carlson School of Management and was the Planning and Business Development Manager for 3M's International Operations. (Id.) Unlike Plaintiff, Davidson did not speak or write Norwegian and had never been to Norway. (Somermeyer Aff., Ex. V (Davidson Dep. 22-23).)

The Hiring Committee determined that Plaintiff and Davidson were the best candidates for the Officer Positions. (Id., Ex. Y (Gandrud Dep. 61, 78).) When Gandrud told Davidson the salary would be $60,000, Davidson responded that he could not work full time ...

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