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Kennedy v. Heritage of Edina, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 2, 2015

Hawa Kennedy, Plaintiff,
v.
Heritage of Edina, Inc., Defendant.

Gerald T. Laurie, Esq. and Laurie & Laurie, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, counsel for plaintiff.

Kerri J. Nelson, Esq. and Bassford Remele, PA, Minneapolis, MN, counsel for defendant.

ORDER

DAVID S. DOTY, District Judge.

This matter is before the court upon the request by plaintiff Hawa Kennedy for equitable relief pursuant to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), or in the alternative, to bring a motion to reconsider the jury's findings as a matter of law. Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the request in part.

BACKGROUND

This employment dispute arises out of the December 2010 termination of plaintiff Hawa Kennedy by defendant Heritage of Edina, Inc. (Heritage). In her complaint, plaintiff alleged claims for (1) race and national origin discrimination under disparate treatment and hostile work environment theories, (2) retaliation and reprisal, (3) disability discrimination, (4) breach of contract, and (5) promissory estoppel. ECF No. 1-1. The discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims were brought under Title VII and the MHRA. Id . On August 4, 2014, the court granted summary judgment to Heritage on Kennedy's disability discrimination, breach of contract, and promissory estoppel claims. ECF No. 21. The remaining claims proceeded to jury trial from January 12-14, 2015. After Kennedy rested, Heritage moved for judgment as a matter of law on all claims. After Heritage rested, Kennedy moved for judgment as a matter of law on all claims, and Heritage renewed its motion. The court took the motions under advisement.

On January 14, 2015, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Kennedy on her disparate treatment claim but awarded no damages. ECF No. 78. Specifically, the jury found that Kennedy's race or national origin, or both, was a motivating factor in Heritage's adverse employment actions toward her, but that Heritage would have taken the same actions regardless of her race or national origin. Id. at 1. The jury found for Heritage on all remaining claims. On January 15, 2015, the court issued an order adopting the jury verdict, granting judgment in favor of Kennedy on her disparate treatment claim, and denying the motions taken under advisement. ECF No. 81.

On January 20, 2015, Kennedy filed a letter with the court requesting equitable and other relief under the MHRA. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1, Kennedy alternatively requested the opportunity to bring a motion for reconsideration of the jury findings as a matter of law.

DISCUSSION

I. Request for Reconsideration

Motions to reconsider require the "court's prior permission, " which will be granted only upon a showing of "compelling circumstances." D. Minn. LR 7.1(j). If a defendant is found liable in a mixed-motive case brought under Title VII, the defendant may show that "it would have made the same decision in the absence of a discriminatory motive." Griffith v. City of Des Moines, 387 F.3d 733, 744 (8th Cir. 2004). This defense "allows the defendant employer to limit the plaintiff's remedy, but does not negate liability." Id. at 744-45. As a result, an employer who prevails on a "same decision" defense is found liable under Title VII but cannot be required to pay damages. See 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(g)(2)(B) (prohibiting damages if employer "would have taken the same action in the absence of the impermissible motivating factor").

In her request, Kennedy argues that the court committed error in submitting the same decision defense to the jury on her MHRA claim. See Anderson v. Hunter, Keith, Marshall & Co., Inc., 417 N.W.2d 619, 626-27 (Minn. 1988) (declining to apply a same decision analysis under the MHRA). Kennedy failed, however, to make this argument at any time before the instant request. A motion to reconsider should not "serve as the occasion to tender new legal theories for the first time." Hagerman v. Yukon Energy Corp., 839 F.2d 407, 414 (8th Cir. 1988) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also In re Potash Antitrust Litig., No. 3-93-197, 1994 WL 2255, at *1 (D. Minn. Jan. 4, 1994) ("Reconsideration should not serve as a vehicle to... raise legal arguments which could have been, but were not, raised or adduced during the pendency of the motion of which reconsideration is sought.").

Kennedy further argues that by generally objecting to the inclusion of the same decision defense for both claims, she preserved the issue for purposes of reconsideration. The court disagrees. Before trial, Kennedy proposed that the jury consider her Title VII and MHRA claims - and damages pursuant to those claims - under the same analysis. See ECF No. 56 at 35-36. She cannot now reverse course and argue that damages should have been considered independently under both statutes. See Lopez v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 690 F.3d 869, 876 (8th Cir. 2012) ("[A]n erroneous ruling generally does not constitute reversible error when it is invited by the same party who seeks on appeal to have the ruling overturned."); see also Deweese v. Lakeview Clinic, Ltd., Nos. A13-2152, A13-2160, 2014 WL 4388674, at *11 (Minn.Ct.App. Sept. 8, 2014) (rejecting argument that plaintiff had a right to a jury ...


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