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Berghoff v. Patterson Dental Holdings, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 21, 2017

Jana Berghoff, Plaintiff,
Patterson Dental Holdings, Inc., Defendant.

          Jonathan P. Norrie, Esq., Lewis A. Remele, Jr., Esq., and Uzodima F. Aba-Onu, Esq., Bassford Remele, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Danielle W. Fitzsimmons, Esq., Emily M. Peterson, Esq., and Neal T. Buethe, Esq., Briggs & Morgan, PA, counsel for Defendant.




         This matter involves allegations of unequal pay, discrimination and retaliation. The case is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment brought by Defendant Patterson Dental Holdings, Inc. (“Defendant” or “Patterson”) (Doc. No. 49). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion.


         Patterson is a distributor of supplies, equipment, software, digital technology and services for dentists and dental laboratories throughout the United States. Plaintiff Jana Berghoff has over 40 years of experience in the dental industry. (Doc. No. 52 (“Fitzsimmons Decl.”) ¶ 2, Ex. 4 (“Plaintiff Dep.”) at 15-34.) In 1999, Patterson hired Plaintiff as a software trainer. (Id. at 24.) In that position, Plaintiff traveled to various dental offices throughout the United States to train dentists and dental staff on how to use Eaglesoft computer software. (Id. at 24-25; Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Exs. 6-7 (“Schauer Dep.”) at 16-17.) Eaglesoft is a Patterson-owned product that manages dental offices' accounting and insurance functions, effectively replacing the “paper chart.” (Plaintiff Dep. at 47, 50.) Plaintiff worked in this position through 2006, earning approximately $70, 000-80, 000 annually. (Plaintiff Dep. at 27.) In 2006, Plaintiff became a Patterson Technology Representative and was responsible for selling certain Patterson software technologies and hardware. (Id. at 31.) Plaintiff claims she earned over $100, 000 annually on commissions in this position. (Id. at 31-33.)

         In 2008, Patterson eliminated Plaintiff's sales position. (Id. at 32.) Plaintiff then accepted the position of Corporate Technology Marketing Manager (CTMM). (Id. at 32-34.)[1] In this position, she earned $90, 000 in annual salary and was eligible for a bonus of up to 25% of her base salary. (Id. at 34-35.) Plaintiff asserts that she understood that her salary would grow. (Doc. No. 70 (“Plaintiff Decl.”) ¶ 1, Ex. 1.) As a CTMM, Plaintiff marketed several Patterson software products. The majority of her time was spent marketing Eaglesoft. (Plaintiff Dep. at 43-44.) Patterson offers the front-desk portion of Eaglesoft to offices for free, but sells add-on software. (Plaintiff Dep. at 51-52.) Plaintiff also marketed CAESY, a software product that provides patient education videos and on-line education. (Id. at 46, 50-51.) Plaintiff also had oversight and partial responsibility for other commercial products. (Id. at 44-50.) In addition, Plaintiff was responsible for training and supervising Patterson technology advisors, including Technology Advisor IIIs. (Id. at 46-47, 58-60.) Technology Advisor IIIs develop educational materials for customers, provide support for high-profile customers, and oversee lower level technology advisors. (Id. at 60.)

         In 2008, Plaintiff began reporting to Josh Killian. (Id. at 69.) In 2011, Killian reviewed Plaintiff's performance, noting her strong product knowledge and training ability, but also stating that Plaintiff failed to understand Patterson's culture and vision for its products. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 10.) Killian suggested to Plaintiff that she travel less and spend more time in the office to help meet deadlines. (Id.) Killian also noted that Plaintiff should approach her work more as a marketer, rather than a trainer or sales person. (Id.)

         In 2012, Killian and Plaintiff discussed her performance. (Plaintiff Dep. at 95-97; Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 11.) Plaintiff expressed frustration that she was not included in general strategy meetings. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 11.) Plaintiff also indicated that she was not happy with her salary and that she thought other male employees in equal positions were paid more. (Id.; Plaintiff Dep. at 102-03.) Plaintiff has identified Rich Lake and Steve Compau as two such employees.

         Lake was hired in 1997. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 12 (“Lake Dep.”) at 14-15.) Lake started off troubleshooting CEREC machines for dentists and eventually assumed responsibility for marketing CEREC/CAD-CAM technology. (Id. at 15, 25-26.) CEREC/CAD-CAM technology is digital technology that allows for crowns to be designed and milled on-site. (Id. at 26.) Patterson is the exclusive dealer of CEREC/CAD-CAM technology, and in the fiscal year 2016, generated significantly more revenue than that generated by Eaglesoft and CAESY products. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 5 (“Killian Dep.”) at 230; Schauer Dep. at 23-24.) In 2013, Lake was named a Marketing Manager III. (Lake Dep. at 26, 39; Killian Dep. at 38-41.) Lake's annual salary was approximately $109, 000. (Lake Dep. at 34.) By 2015, Lake's salary was approximately $121, 000. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 31.)

         Compau was hired in 2011 and was responsible for marketing digital imaging equipment-digital x-ray products used both inside and outside a patient's mouth. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 13; Plaintiff Dep. at 210-11.) In 2016, this equipment generated significantly more revenue than Eaglesoft and CAESY. (Killian Dep. at 231; Schauer Dep. at 23-24.) Compau's initial salary at Patterson was approximately $110, 000, and when he left Patterson in 2015, his salary was approximately $114, 000. (Killian Dep. at 169; Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 14.)

         In 2013, Plaintiff again raised concerns about her salary with Killian. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 16; Killian Dep. at 181; Plaintiff Dep. at 114, 118.) Plaintiff also claims that she rarely received supervision under Killian, that Killian ignored scheduled meetings with her, and that Killian would have dinner with Lake and Compau during work travel without inviting Plaintiff. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 17 at 9.) Plaintiff reported to Killian until February 2016.

         In early 2016, Patterson restructured its marketing department. Patterson hired a new Vice President of Marketing for Commercial Software, Cecile Schauer, making Schauer Plaintiff's new supervisor. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 15.) Compau and Lake, who marketed digital technologies, reported to the new Director of Marketing for Digital Technologies. (Plaintiff Dep. at 126.) After a few months, Schauer concluded that Plaintiff “struggled significantly” with her marketing responsibilities by, for example, failing to complete tasks on time, but also that Plaintiff was more comfortable and passionate about her training responsibilities on the technology side. (Schauer Dep. at 52.) Realizing that the department was being restructured, Plaintiff spoke to Schauer about her “dream scenario”- a director-level position supervising technology advisors. (Plaintiff Dep. at 129-31.)

         On March 4, 2016, Schauer completed a draft restructuring plan. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 18.) The plan was intended to grow the software business while launching new cloud-based practice management software. (Schauer Dep. at 83-84.) To accomplish the goals of the plan, Schauer suggested creating four focused positions in the following areas: customer acquisition, customer retention, E-services, and new software launch. (Id.) Schauer wanted the positions to be staffed individually to drive strong results. (Id.) Schauer considered transferring Plaintiff's marketing responsibilities to another employee and at one point envisioned Plaintiff managing the Technology Advisor III team. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 18 at 8.)

         Later in March 2016, Schauer again met with Plaintiff, at which time Plaintiff indicated that she felt disrespected and that she was aware she was paid less than Lake and Compau. (Plaintiff Dep. at 139-40.) Plaintiff also shared her belief that her treatment was gender related. (Plaintiff Dep. at 141-42.) Schauer indicated that she would pass Plaintiff's concerns to Human Resources (HR) and follow-up in early April. (Schauer Dep. at 120.)

         On March 21, 2016, Schauer met with Mark Buschbacher, Director of HR, and Katie Graham, an HR generalist, to discuss restructuring. On April 4, 2016, Schauer and Plaintiff discussed the impending restructuring, at which time Schauer confirmed that there would be separate marketing and training teams, and that Plaintiff would likely be placed on the training team. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 23.) By April 11, 2016, Plaintiff understood that her position at Patterson would be changing. (Plaintiff Dep. at 149.)

         On April 12, 2016, Plaintiff met with Buschbacher to discuss her workplace concerns, and in particular, her belief that she had been treated differently than male colleagues. She complained that the men with whom she worked were “buddy/buddy” and “exclusive” and that she believed this was reflected in Killian's attitude towards her and her salary. (Plaintiff Dep. at 156-59.) Plaintiff sent Schauer an e-mail the next day. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 27.) In this e-mail, Plaintiff stated that she would be happy to be the director of the Technology Advisor group, indicated that she considered a Technology Advisor III position to be a demotion, asked whether she should apply for a marketing position, and reiterated the concerns she voiced with HR. (Id.)

         On April 18, 2016, Patterson posted three new jobs in the software marketing department. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 26.) Plaintiff e-mailed Schauer, inquiring about the positions. Schauer responded by expressing confusion because she believed that Plaintiff was interested in rejoining the Technology Advisor III team. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 29.) Plaintiff indicated that she was “most at home and passionate” about the Technology Advisor group, but also that she did not want to be a Technology Advisor III again and that she was worried that passing on a marketing position would be bad for her future at Patterson. (Id.) Schauer told Plaintiff that if Plaintiff accepted a Technology Advisor III position, Patterson would augment the position to include responsibilities that Plaintiff enjoyed, such as speaking engagements and attending trade shows. (Schauer Dep. at 141-42.)

         Meanwhile, Buschbacher investigated Plaintiff's complaints about her salary. In doing so, he compared salary and personnel information for Plaintiff, Lake, and Compau. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 2 (“Buschbacher Dep.”) at 97-98; Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 31.) Buschbacher concluded that although Plaintiff's salary was lower than Lake's and Compau's, the difference was justified because Lake's and Compau's product lines generated more revenue. (Plaintiff Dep. at 183-84.) He also noted that Plaintiff's bonus eligibility was higher than that of Lake and Compau. (Fitzsimmons Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 31; Plaintiff Dep. at 184-85.) Plaintiff disagreed with Buschbacher's conclusion. (Plaintiff Dep. at 184.)

         On April 28, 2016, Plaintiff and Schauer met again to discuss the open marketing positions. Plaintiff asked Schauer if she would get a marketing position if she applied. Schauer responded that it would depend on who applied and that she would hire the most qualified person. (Id. at 187.) Plaintiff then asked whether she would get a management position over technology advisors if such a position opened up. (Id. at 188.) According to Plaintiff, Schauer reported that she ...

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