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Brodhead v. Knife River Corporation-North Central

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 20, 2015

Michelle Brodhead, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
Knife River Corporation-North Central, a Minnesota corporation, Defendant.

Elizabeth L. Taylor, Esq., and Michael L. Puklich, Esq., Neaton & Puklich, P.L.L.P., counsel for Plaintiff.

Roger C. Justin, Esq., Rinke Noonan, counsel for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DONOVAN W. FRANK, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Knife River Corporation-North Central's ("Knife River") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 19.) For the reasons set forth below, Knife River's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Michelle Brodhead ("Brodhead") and her husband, Paige Brodhead, began working as truck drivers for Knife River in May 2011. (Doc. No. 26 ("Brodhead Decl.") ¶¶ 2, 9.) Brodhead asserts that she was hired with a starting wage of $16 per hour, whereas her husband was hired with a starting wage of $17.50 per hour. (Id. ¶ 9.) Knife River asserts that Brodhead was hired in 2011 at a base rate of $17 per hour. (Doc. No. 22 ("Stover Decl.") ¶ 3, Ex. 3 ("Brodhead Time & Pay"); Doc. No. 23 ("Justin Decl.") ¶ 3, Ex. C ("Foster Dep.") at 3.)

In late July 2011, on her first day of work at a site in Fordville, North Dakota, Brodhead asserts that her supervisor, Jim Cass ("Cass"), referred to her as "Donuts" because she did not bring him donuts that morning. (Brodhead Decl. ¶ 4.) Brodhead claims that she asked Cass to refer to her by her name or truck number, but Cass continued to refer to her as "Donuts." (Id. ) Brodhead asserts that she complained to Knife River's Human Rights Department ("HR") about the name-calling and was told that an HR representative would talk to Cass about the incident. (Id. ¶ 5.)

Brodhead asserts that her complaint to HR did not stop Cass's name-calling. (Id. ¶ 7.) Following her complaint to HR, Brodhead claims that Cass told her that he was aware that she had contacted HR and that he controlled her work schedule and could determine: whether she would be called back to work the following year; whether she would receive health insurance; and whether she would have enough hours to qualify for unemployment compensation during the off-season winter months. (Id. ) Brodhead asserts that she reported Cass's conduct to HR and to her union representative. (Id. ¶ 8.) Brodhead claims that she also reported to HR that Cass was assigning her fewer hours than her male counterparts and was told that an HR representative would speak with Cass about the issue. (Id. ¶ 6.) Brodhead also claims that she requested to be transferred to another assignment under a different supervisor and in the same division as her husband. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 10.)

In response to Brodhead's request, Knife River offered Brodhead and her husband jobs in Noonan, North Dakota, which they accepted. (Id. ¶ 13.) In Noonan, Brodhead asserts that she protested bullying and mistreatment of minority workers by one of her coworkers, David Prickett ("Prickett"). (Id. ¶ 14.) Specifically, Brodhead asserts that she observed Prickett mocking another worker of Somali descent and that she told Prickett to "knock it off." (Id. ) Brodhead claims that Prickett responded angrily and told her that he had done time in a California prison for stabbing someone so she should "watch out." (Id. ) Following this incident, Brodhead asserts that she complained to her supervisor, Curt Graves ("Graves"), who was also present during the incident, and was told to simply ignore Prickett. (Id. ) Brodhead does not know whether Knife River formally disciplined Prickett following the incident. (Id. ¶ 15.)

In September 2011, Brodhead, her husband, and Knife River construction crew members were moved to a site in New Town, North Dakota. (Id. ¶ 18.) Brodhead asserts that she was one of only two women at the New Town site. (Id. ¶ 19.) Brodhead claims that while she was at the New Town site, Graves requested that she cook for the other workers at the site and, in exchange, Brodhead asserts that Graves informed her that she would be released from her trucking duties an hour before everyone else and would be paid for two additional hours to cook dinner at the site. (Id. ) Brodhead asserts that none of the male workers at the site were asked to cook or to share in the grocery shopping or clean-up responsibilities. (Id. )

In October 2011, Brodhead asserts that she was riding as a passenger in a truck driven by her coworker, Mark Fordyce ("Fordyce"), when Prickett drove alongside Fordyce's side of the truck and attempted to run it off the road. (Id. ¶ 20.) Brodhead and Fordyce reported the incident to Jeff Lambert ("Lambert"), the Knife River Safety Manager. (Id. ¶ 21.) Brodhead asserts that she also called Knife River's Sauk Rapids headquarters to report the incident as well as the previous incident in Noonan involving Prickett's comments to Brodhead and her coworker of Somali descent. (Id. ) In response to Brodhead's report, Lambert visited the New Town site and spent a day speaking with Knife River employees, including Graves, but did not speak with Brodhead. (Id. ¶ 22.) Brodhead asserts that following Lambert's meeting with Graves during his visit, Graves approached her and berated her for reporting the incidents to headquarters. (Id. )

In February 2012, Brodhead asserts that Graves asked her whether she and her husband would be willing to return to North Dakota to work during the 2012 construction season. (Id. ¶ 25.) Brodhead asserts that Graves assured her that Prickett was gone and that "things would be different going forward." (Id. ) Brodhead claims that based on these assurances, she returned to New Town with her husband in April 2012. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Brodhead asserts that her employment with Knife River did not improve under different supervision at the New Town site. (Id. ) Brodhead claims that during her first meeting with her supervisor at the New Town site, Al Stocker ("Stocker"), he stated that "women are only good for two things, and neither one of them is road construction." (Id. ) Brodhead claims that she was assigned very little work under Stocker's supervision and that Stocker favored male employees over female employees. (Id. ¶ 27.) Brodhead asserts that on three occasions between May and June 2012, Stocker texted her offensive sex jokes and pornographic pictures. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 30; Doc. No. 29 ("Puklich Decl.") ¶ 17, Ex. L ("Brodhead Dep.") at 46.) Brodhead claims that she reported Stocker's conduct to HR, but her reports were ignored. (Brodhead Decl. ¶¶ 29, 30.) Brodhead claims that Stocker continued to make offensive comments to her and her husband. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 32.)

Brodhead asserts that Stocker used a racial epithet to refer to a coworker at a party in 2012. (Id. ¶ 30.) Brodhead asserts that, in a later incident on July 20, 2012, Stocker grabbed a driver of Somali descent and dragged him out of his truck after an altercation. (Id. ¶ 33.) Brodhead claims that she reported the July 20, 2012 incident to a coworker, Joe Kampa ("Kampa"), who investigated and reported the incident to the President of Knife River. (Id. ¶ 34.) Stocker was removed from the site the same day and was terminated shortly thereafter. (Id. ¶ 35; Doc. No. 12 ("Def.'s Statement of Case") at 2.) Knife River contends that the information Brodhead provided was relied on by Knife River to make the decision to terminate Stocker. (Def.'s Statement of Case at 2.)

Within a week of Stocker's departure from the New Town site, Brodhead asserts that she received a phone call from Graves stating that she would be replaced as a water tanker driver by a man named Jim Wannebo ("Wannebo"). (Brodhead Decl. ¶ 36.) Brodhead claims that she had to train Wannebo several times before he was able to operate the water tanker truck. (Id. ) Brodhead asserts that she asked Graves for her position back and was told that Graves wanted Wannebo to keep the job. (Id. ) Brodhead asserts that Wannebo received more compensation than she did in 2012. (Id. )

In late July 2012, Brodhead asserts that her camper at the New Town site was broken into and damaged. (Id.; Brodhead Dep. at 54-56, 73.) Brodhead asserts that during the break-in, her underwear had been removed from drawers, strewn around, and stolen. (Brodhead Decl. ¶ 39.) Brodhead asserts that a coworker informed her that another employee, Randy Rakke ("Rakke"), was responsible for the break-in. (Id. ) Brodhead claims that she reported this information to Graves, Kampa, and Knife River managers, but no follow-up action was taken. (Id. ¶ 40.)

In early 2013, Brodhead asserts that she received a letter from HR asking her to meet with Knife River attorneys in preparation for a suit brought by a female Knife River employee against Knife River. (Id. ¶ 43.) Brodhead asserts that over the course of her subsequent conversation with an HR representative, she complained about the July 2012 break-in incident, but never received a follow-up response. (Id. )

In early June 2013, Brodhead asserts that she moved from job to job while her husband worked elsewhere. (Id. ¶ 44.) During this time, Brodhead asserts that she was denied work while Knife River was hiring men straight out of truck driving school and paying them more than she had been paid. (Id. )

In late June 2013, Brodhead returned to work at Knife River. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47.) Upon her return to work, Brodhead discovered that the air-conditioning in her truck was malfunctioning. (Id. ¶ 47.) Brodhead asserts that both she and her husband reported the lack of air-conditioning in her truck as a safety hazard to HR. (Id. ) Brodhead claims that an HR representative told her that the issue would be looked into and, approximately 1.5 months later, the HR representative had her air-conditioning fixed. (Id.; Brodhead Dep. at 63-64.) Brodhead asserts that during this time, all other employees' air-conditioning was working and a male employee ...


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