United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Nixon O. Ayeni, Esq., Law Office of Nixon Ayeni, counsel for Plaintiff.
Carl Crosby Lehmann, Esq., and Matthew Webster, Esq., Gray Plant Mooty Mooty & Bennett, PA; and Michael D. Billok, Esq., Bond, Schoeneck, King, PLLC, counsel for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DONOVAN W. FRANK, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Defendant Genpak, LLC's ("Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 38.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendant's Motion.
Defendant manufactures disposable food service packaging and is headquartered in New York with several locations nationwide. (Doc. No. 40 ("Sawchuk Decl.") ¶¶ 2-4.) Plaintiff was employed by Defendant from June 1, 1972 to December 3, 2012 and worked most recently at the Lakeville, Minnesota plant. ( Id. ¶ 9.)
Plaintiff's claims stem from his termination by Defendant. On November 29, 2012, Plaintiff was involved in a dispute with his supervisor, Russell Snyder ("Snyder"), a Plant Manager for Defendant. ( Id. ¶ 28.) On December 3, 2012, Plaintiff was terminated for insubordination as a result of the dispute. ( Id. ¶ 29.)
The events that gave rise to the dispute between Plaintiff and Snyder began in 2006, when Plaintiff was promoted to Extrusion Department Manager. (Doc. No. 39 ("Billok Decl.") ¶ 4, Ex. D ("Savoie Dep.") at 9.) Plaintiff was hesitant to accept the promotion due to the increase in responsibility but only marginal increase in salary. (Doc. No. 40-12 ("Snyder Decl.") ¶ 3; Savoie Dep. at 12-13.) However, Plaintiff accepted the position after receiving encouragement from Snyder. (Snyder Decl. ¶ 3; Savoie Dep. at 13.) At the time of Plaintiff's promotion, Snyder did not know Plaintiff's exact age, but did know Plaintiff was in his fifties. (Snyder Decl. ¶ 3.) During the negotiations for the promotion, Snyder alluded to an increase in Plaintiff's salary in the near future, promising that "your boss will recognize you, " and "we'll get you there." (Savoie Dep. at 12-13, 16.)
Shortly after accepting the new position in 2006, Plaintiff and Snyder's relationship became contentious, such that Plaintiff began to document their interactions in a journal. (Savoie Dep. at 56-57.) After his promotion, Plaintiff was moved to the day shift after working the night shift since 1977. ( Id. at 37-38.) However, as part of his new job responsibility to train personnel, Plaintiff was shifted back to nights between February and May of 2007 and again in February of 2010. ( Id. at 37-39; Snyder Decl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff testified that the shift change caused the recurrence of a sleeping condition after a period of dormancy. (Savoie Dep. at 37.) Plaintiff stated that Snyder "strongly contributed" to the recurrence of the sleep disorder when Snyder singled him out to switch to night shifts, despite Plaintiff's pleas not to switch. ( Id. )
In a 2007 performance review, Snyder offered Plaintiff a four percent raise over the three percent raise offered to most employees. ( Id. at 14-16.) Plaintiff was dissatisfied and believed he had been promised a higher raise by Snyder. ( Id. ) Through the years, Plaintiff continued to record his hostile interactions with Snyder in his journal. ( Id. at 56-57.) In 2012, Plaintiff disagreed with and refused to sign his performance review and forfeited a potential raise. ( Id. at 19-20.) Snyder responded by revising and improving Plaintiff's performance review. ( Id. at 21-24.) Plaintiff did not accept the amended review and continued his protest by refusing to sign the review. ( Id. at 24-25.) As a result, Plaintiff declined the proposed raise and forfeited the potential back pay from the raise. ( Id. at 25.)
Beginning August 27, 2012, Plaintiff and Catherine Sawchuk, the Genpak Director of Human Resources, exchanged a series of e-mails in which Plaintiff used an alias because he feared retribution. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 10, Ex. C.) These e-mails included: discussions about the relationship between Plaintiff and Snyder; allegations of potential legal violations concerning improper FDA paperwork for resin purchases, OSHA violations, and falsification of paperwork; and other grievances surrounding Plaintiff's employment. ( Id. ) On September 28, 2012, Plaintiff called Sawchuk, and identified himself as the author of the e-mails and continued to voice his grievances against Snyder and the practices at Defendant's facility that he thought were illegal. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 11.) On October 8, 2012, Plaintiff sent Sawchuk another e-mail with a list of violations he believed occurred at Genpak, as well as details regarding a personal dispute between Plaintiff and Snyder. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 12; Savoie Dep. at 101-02.) The dispute that Plaintiff reported about occurred when Snyder circulated a picture with a comment about Plaintiff's weight. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 21; Savoie Dep. at 143-44.) Sawchuk began an investigation into the alleged violations and the dispute and promptly scheduled a personal visit to the plant from her New York office. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 13.)
On October 16, 2012, Sawchuk met with Plaintiff to address his complaints. ( Id. ¶ 15; Savoie Dep. at 101.) Over the course of an 8.5-hour interview, Sawchuk requested evidence regarding the alleged violations and the names of employees who could verify Plaintiff's allegations. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 15; Savoie Dep. at 102.) Sawchuk continued her investigation in New York by interviewing employees and corresponding with Plaintiff through e-mail. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 18.)
Over the course of her investigation, Plaintiff failed to provide any information showing falsification of production reports or other evidence supporting his claims of Genpak violations. ( Id. ¶¶ 19, 20; Savoie Dep. at 99-102.) Sawchuk testified that her interviews with the other employees revealed conflicting information. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 23.) Sawchuk completed her initial findings on November 27, 2012, and concluded that there was no evidence to corroborate Plaintiff's claims regarding the falsification of production reports, safety issues, OSHA violations, or actionable discrimination. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶¶ 25-27.) Sawchuk finalized her report after conferring with counsel on November 29, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 27, Ex. I.)
At approximately 4:00 p.m. on November 29, 2012, Snyder and Plaintiff had an argument resulting in Plaintiff's termination. (Savoie Dep. at 153-55.) The parties agree that during the argument, Plaintiff picked up the phone in his office, which connected to the plant paging system, and said either "I'm sick of you hassling me, I'm sick of this shit" or "I'm sick and tired." (Snyder Decl. ¶ 7; Savoie Dep. at 156.) Directly following the argument between Plaintiff and Snyder, Plaintiff contacted Sue Lehman ("Lehman"), the Human Resources Manager, to request a temporary leave of absence and was provided with Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork to be filled out by his doctor. (Doc. No. 40-14 ("Lehman Decl.") ¶ 5.) Plaintiff responded that he wanted to pursue a workers' compensation claim for the stress caused by Snyder, and Lehman advised Plaintiff to go to Defendant's clinic to be evaluated. ( Id. )
On November 30, 2012, Sawchuk was informed of Plaintiff and Snyder's argument involving the paging system. Sawchuk spoke with Snyder that day and again on December 3, 2012. (Snyder Decl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff was terminated for insubordination and denigrating Snyder and received his notice of termination on December 3, 2012. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff was 58 years old at the time he was terminated. (Savoie Dep. at 108.) Plaintiff's position as Extrusion Department Manager remained vacant for approximately two months and was eventually filled by Don Kiser, a 51-year-old man who had a new title with different duties. (Sawchuk Decl. ¶¶ 31-32; Savoie Dep. at 106-08.)
At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that Snyder made comments about the age of other employees in a negative manner. (Savoie Dep. at 51-54.) Plaintiff did not record any entries in his eighteen-page journal regarding these age-related comments and admitted to not being aware of Snyder making a comment about his age. ( Id. at 51, 55-57, 60-61.) Plaintiff also stated that while he knew the "stated" reason for his termination, he did not know why he was terminated. ( Id. at 108-09.)
On May 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present action asserting two claims against the Defendant: (1) Violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA") for age discrimination under Minn. Stat. § 363A.08 (Count I); and (2) Violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act ("MWA") under Minn. Stat. § 181.932 (Count II). (Doc. No. 1 ...