United States District Court, D. Minnesota
BALEKI F. CAMPBELL, Plaintiff,
CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, INC., Defendant
Ryan H. Ahlberg, AHLBERG LAW, PLLC, for plaintiff.
Jacqueline R. Guesno and Tanya E. Milligan, MESSNER & REEVES LLC; Kathleen Michaela Brennan, MCGRANN SHEA CARNIVAL STRAUGHN & LAMB, CHTD., for defendant.
Patrick J. Schiltz, United States District Judge.
This is an unusual employment-discrimination case. Plaintiff Baleki F. Campbell alleges that defendant Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (" Chipotle" ) fired him -- not because of what his ethnicity is, but because of what his ethnicity is not. Specifically, Campbell alleges that Chipotle hired him under the mistaken impression that he was Hmong -- and then, when it learned that he was not Hmong, it fired him in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (" MHRA" ), Minn. Stat. § 363A.01 et seq. This matter is before the Court on Chipotle's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, Chipotle's motion is granted, and Campbell's complaint is dismissed.
In late February or early March 2012, Campbell attended a job fair in Minneapolis. Campbell Dep. 25-26 [ECF No. 18-10]. At that job fair, Campbell met Phil Sieden. Id. at 26. Sieden works for Chipotle as a " [r]estauranteur."  Sieden Dep. 6 [ECF No. 18-1]. Sieden encouraged Campbell to apply for a position at one of the restaurants that he oversaw. Campbell Dep. 26.
Campbell did so, and a short time later, he interviewed for a position at the Chipotle restaurant in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota. Id. at 31-32; Sieden Dep. 41. Several
people were involved in the interview and hiring process, including Sieden, Derek Her (a manager at the Vadnais Heights restaurant), and Xao Kong (another manager at that restaurant). See Sieden Dep. 42. This management team decided to hire Campbell, id., and Campbell began working at the Vadnais Heights restaurant on March 28, 2012, see Compl. ¶ 10 [ECF No. 1-1].
Although Sieden is not Hmong, see Brennan Aff. Ex. B [ECF No. 18-2], the workforce of the Vadnais Heights Chipotle includes many employees who are Hmong, including both Her and Kong, see Sieden Dep. 15-36 (identifying 21 of 37 employees and former employees as Hmong or Hmong-American, and 2 of those 37 employees as being of unknown ethnicity). Campbell is " African-American and Korean-American." Compl. ¶ 4. He alleges, however, that due to his short stature and appearance, " he could be easily confused for a Hmong [or] Hmong-American . . . ." Id. ¶ 5; see also ECF No. 20 at 1. Campbell claims that his appearance caused Sieden and the other Chipotle managers to believe that he was Hmong, and he contends that this mistake contributed to their decision to hire him. Compl. ¶ 19. He acknowledges, however, that Sieden did not ask him if he was Hmong, see Campbell Dep. 28-29, and Campbell does not allege that anyone else asked him whether he was Hmong at any time -- before or during his employment.
Campbell's employment with Chipotle did not go smoothly. He admits that he arrived late to work on at least six occasions between March 28, 2012 (the date he began working) and September 6, 2012 (the date he was fired). See Campbell Dep. 127-32 [ECF No. 18-11]. Campbell also acknowledges that managers spoke to him each month about improving his attitude at work. Id. at 197. Finally, Campbell admits that his relationship with coworkers was sometimes strained, including one altercation with a coworker that required Sieden's intervention. Id. at 171-72. Sieden testified that this altercation was " pretty significant," and that his resulting intervention was unlike anything he had " ever had to do" during his " career at Chipotle . . . ." Sieden Dep. 77.
On September 6, 2012, Campbell arrived late for work for (at least) the seventh time. Kong Aff. ¶ 9 [ECF No. 17]. The Chipotle management team -- led by Kong, who was managing the Vadnais Heights restaurant on that date -- decided to terminate Campbell's employment. Id. ¶ 10. Kong explained to Campbell that Chipotle was firing him due to his ...