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Sledge v. Conagra Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 9, 2014

Billy Sledge, Plaintiff,
ConAgra Foods, Inc., Defendant.

Harvey B. Friedenson, Esq. and Friedenson Law Firm, LLC, 265 Nathan Lane North, N205, Plymouth, MN 55441, counsel for plaintiff.

Andrew J. Weissler, Esq., Josef S. Glynias, Esq. and Husch Blackwell, LLP, St. Louis, MO 63105 and Steven R. Anderson, Esq., Jennifer J. Kruckeberg, Esq. and Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, counsel for defendant.


DAVID S. DOTY, District Judge.

This matter is before the court upon the motion to dismiss counts IV and V by defendant ConAgra Foods, Inc. (ConAgra). Based on a review of the file, record and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the motion.


This employment dispute arises out of the February 2011 termination of plaintiff Billy Sledge by ConAgra. Sledge was employed by ConAgra as a production line worker in Lakeville, Minnesota from March 2009 until his termination. Compl. at 2.

ConAgra required line workers to leave a message on a company phone line if they were unable to work due to sickness or injury. Id . Failure to do so could result in the assignment of disciplinary points and lead to suspension or discharge. Id . If a production line was non-operational due to maintenance, line workers were contacted by a supervisor and could either be temporarily reassigned in the plant or elect to utilize an "off-day" and stay home. Id. at 3. Line workers who used an "off-day" were expected to return to ConAgra for their next regularly-scheduled shift. Id.

In April 2010, Sledge suffered a non-work-related injury to his Achilles tendon. Id . ¶ 9. Following the injury, ConAgra paid Sledge short-term disability benefits and restricted his duties until August 1, 2010. Id . On several occasions thereafter, Sledge was unable to work due to continuing discomfort and called ConAgra to report his absences. Id. at 4. ConAgra assigned Sledge disciplinary points for such absences. Id.

Sledge reinjured his Achilles tendon during a work shift on January 20, 2011. Id . ¶ 11. Sledge informed a supervisor of the injury and left work. Id. at 6. Sledge was unable to work his scheduled shift on February 1, 2011, and left a message on the ConAgra phone line. Id. at 7. On February 2 and 3, 2011, Sledge's line was scheduled for maintenance and Sledge did not go to the plant for his shifts. Id.

Sledge returned to work on February 6, 2011, for his next regularly-scheduled shift. Id . Sledge was not allowed to work and was instead directed to punch out and contact the Human Resources department the following day. Id. at 7-8. Sledge asked to submit Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA) paperwork, which ConAgra declined to accept. Id. at 8. On February 6 and February 8, Sledge spoke with ConAgra human resources staff members. Id . Sledge told them that he believed he had been sent home as a result of race and disability discrimination. Id . Sledge was terminated for absenteeism on February 9, 2011. Id. at 9. ConAgra subsequently contested Sledge's entitlement to unemployment insurance and workers' compensation benefits, which Sledge was ultimately awarded. Id . Sledge's request for FMLA leave was denied in March 2011 following input from ConAgra. Id. at 10.

On August 22, 2013, Sledge filed this action, alleging (1) violations of Minnesota Statutes § 176.82, (2) the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), (3) the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), (4) the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (MWA), (5) Title VII, (6) 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and (7) a claim for wrongful discharge. ConAgra moves to dismiss the MWA and wrongful discharge claims.


I. Standard of Review

To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff [has pleaded] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must raise a right to relief above the speculative level. See Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. ...

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