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Dale v. United States Steel Corporation

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 2, 2015

RYAN DALE, Plaintiff,

Clayton D. Halunen and Ross D. Stadheim, HALUNEN & ASSOCIATES, for plaintiff.

Marilyn J. Clark, DORSEY & WHITNEY LLP; and Rodney M. Torbic, UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION, for defendant.


PATRICK J. SCHILTZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ryan Dale ("Ryan") brings this action under the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA"), Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.01, et seq., alleging that defendant United States Steel Corporation ("U.S. Steel") refused to hire him in order to retaliate against his father ”a long-time employee of U.S. Steel”for engaging in conduct protected by the MHRA. This matter is before the Court on U.S. Steel's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, U.S. Steel's motion is granted.


Ryan's father, David Dale ("David"), has worked for U.S. Steel since 1997. ECF No. 53, Ex. G at 5. David is blind in his right eye. David Dep. 74. For nearly all of his career, David has been a production-truck driver. ECF No. 53, Ex. G at 5. As traffic at the mine increased and the trucks became bigger, David became concerned that his right-eye blindness was hindering his ability to drive safely. Id. at 7. David requested an accommodation for his disability”specifically, that a camera be installed on his truck to reduce blind spots. Id. at 5. In response, U.S. Steel installed a camera on one of the production trucks, but David was not always assigned that truck, and the camera did not always work. Id. David complained about the problems. Rather than remedy the problems, U.S. Steel took David off production trucks and assigned him to a lower-paying laborer position. See id. at 5-6, 9.

David then filed complaints with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging discrimination based on his disability. ECF No. 53, Ex. E, Ex. C, Ex. D. David also filed a grievance. ECF No. 53, Ex. G at 4. One year after David filed his grievance, U.S. Steel addressed the problems with David's accommodation and reinstated David to production trucks. Id. at 16. Two years after that, in April 2012, David's grievance was finally resolved, and David was awarded $16, 500 to compensate for U.S. Steel's delay in fully accommodating his disability. Id. at 2, 16.

About a month later, Ryan began applying for jobs at U.S. Steel. ECF No. 53, Ex. A at 2; Ryan Dep. 50-52. Ryan was interviewed for a utility-person position on October 30, 2012. ECF No. 53, Ex. I at 2. Ryan received a "Meets Expectations" rating on his interview, but he was not hired. Id. at 20. Representatives of U.S. Steel testified that, when seeking to fill utility-person positions, the company only hires people who receive an "Exceeds Expectations" rating. Suihkonen Dep. 16, 105-06; Wiirre Dep. 20. Ryan continued to apply for positions at U.S. Steel, but he was not interviewed again, and he has never been hired. Ryan Dep. 62-63.

Ryan filed a one-count complaint against U.S. Steel, alleging that the company "engaged in unlawful retaliation against [Ryan] because of his father's protected activity in violation of the [MHRA]." Compl. ¶ 25. Although Ryan did not cite the specific provision of the MHRA on which he relied, his claim was clearly asserted under subdivision 1 of Minn. Stat. § 363A.15 ("Subdivision 1"), which makes it unlawful for an employer to "intentionally engage in any reprisal against any person because that person... opposed a practice forbidden" by the MHRA.

U.S. Steel moved for summary judgment on Ryan's reprisal claim. In resisting U.S. Steel's motion, Ryan indicated for the first time that he was also accusing U.S. Steel of violating subdivision 2 of Minn. Stat. § 363A.15 ("Subdivision 2"), which makes it unlawful for an employer to "intentionally engage in any reprisal against any person because that person... associated with a person... who [is] disabled...." Specifically, Ryan alleges that U.S. Steel refused to hire him because he associated with a disabled person (that is, his father).


A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute over a fact is "material" only if its resolution might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute over a fact is "genuine" only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. "The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255.

B. Subdivision 1 Claim

Ryan's first claim”the one pleaded in his complaint”is that U.S. Steel violated Subdivision 1 when it refused to give him a job in order to retaliate against his father because his father "opposed a practice forbidden under [the MHRA]." Minn. Stat. § 363A.15, subd. 1. Specifically, Ryan alleges that his father engaged in protected activity when he complained about U.S. Steel's failure to accommodate his disability, and that U.S. Steel "engage[d] in... reprisal" against his father by refusing to give Ryan a job.

Ryan thus presents what is known as a "third-party retaliation claim"”that is, a claim that an employer (here, U.S. Steel) retaliated against an employee (here, David) for engaging in protected activity, not by taking action against that employee, but by taking action against a third party (here, Ryan). The question is whether, under the MHRA, a third party in the position of Ryan”that is, someone who did not oppose any practice forbidden by the MHRA”may nevertheless sue for a violation of Subdivision 1. This question has not been explicitly addressed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, and thus this Court must attempt to predict "what that court would probably hold were it to decide the issue, " taking into account "relevant state precedent, analogous decisions, considered dicta, scholarly works and any other reliable data." Ventura v. Titan Sports, Inc., 65 F.3d 725, 729 (8th Cir. 1995).

The most "relevant state precedent" appears to be the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Gagliardi v. Ortho-Midwest, Inc., 733 N.W.2d 171 (Minn.Ct.App. 2007). In Gagliardi, an employee (Gagliardi) alleged that she was fired by her employer (Ortho-Midwest) because her boyfriend had engaged in protected conduct (reporting that Gagliardi had been sexually harassed by employees of Aircast, a client of Ortho-Midwest). Id. at 174-75. The Minnesota Court of Appeals squarely held that, because Gagliardi had not herself engaged in protected conduct, she could not bring a reprisal claim under Subdivision 1:

Gagliardi argues that Ortho-Midwest retaliated by terminating her employment shortly after her boyfriend complained to Aircast about the alleged incidents of sexual harassment by Aircast's employees.... The plain language of the Minnesota Human Rights Act defeats Gagliardi's argument. The Act makes it unlawful for an employer "to intentionally engage in any reprisal against any person because that person" engaged in ...

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