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Trainer v. Continental Carbonic Products, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 24, 2017

Timothy N. Trainer, Plaintiff,
Continental Carbonic Products, Inc., Defendant.

          Matthew J. Schapp, Esq. and Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills and Bauer, P.A., counsel for plaintiff.

          Alyssa M. Toft, Esq. and Jackson Lewis P.C., counsel for defendant.


          David S. Doty, Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the court upon the partial motion to dismiss by defendant Continental Carbonic Products, Inc (CCPI). Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court denies the motion.


         This discrimination dispute arises out of CCPI's decision to fire plaintiff Timothy N. Trainer, a white male whose wife is African-American and whose children are biracial. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. In August 2013, CCPI hired Trainer as a full-time driver at its Burnsville, Minnesota location. Id. ¶ 8. When Trainer's co-worker, Travis Gilner, learned that Trainer's wife was African-American and his children were biracial, Gilner allegedly began making racially derogatory comments about them. See id. ¶¶ 13-14. Trainer alleges that Gilner used offensive terms such as “nigger, ” “tar babies, ” and “mud flaps.” Id. ¶ 14. Gilner also allegedly asked Trainer if he “liked his coffee black like his wife or with cream like his kids” and whether Trainer's “family had fried chicken and watermelon five nights a week.” Id. Trainer claims that Gilner also showed him racist cartoons and told racist jokes. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         In September 2014, Gilner became Trainer's direct supervisor, and the racially derogatory comments about Trainer's family allegedly continued. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. In April 2015, Trainer reported Gilner's behavior to CCPI human resources, but he claims that they did not return his calls for approximately a week despite his repeated follow-up calls. Id. ¶¶ 20-22. Approximately three weeks after Trainer's initial complaint to human resources, CCPI terminated Gilner's employment because of the alleged harassment. Id. ¶ 24. After Gilner's termination, Trainer decided to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and, in October 2015, he requested from CCPI its investigation file concerning Gilner's alleged harassment. Id. ¶ 26. Trainer claims CCPI denied his request. Id. ¶ 27. Approximately three weeks later, CCPI terminated Trainer allegedly because he wanted to file an EEOC complaint against the company. Id. ¶¶ 28, 42-43.

         On November 21, 2016, Trainer filed suit against CCPI in state district court, and CCPI timely removed. See ECF No. 1. Trainer filed an amended suit on December 30, 2016, asserting claims of hostile work environment under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) and wrongful termination.[1] CCPI now moves to dismiss the hostile work environment claim.


         I. Standard of Review

         In order to survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff [has pleaded] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must raise a right of relief above the speculative level. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “[L]abels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are not sufficient to state a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         II. Failure to State a Claim

         Because of the substantial similarity between the MHRA and Title VII, Minnesota courts “have frequently applied principles which have evolved in the adjudication of claims under the federal act ....” Anderson v. Hunter, Keith, Marshall & Co., 417 N.W.2d 619, 623 (Minn. 1988); see also Rothmeier v. Inv. Advisers, Inc., 85 F.3d 1328, 1338 (8th Cir. 1996) (“The Minnesota Supreme Court has held time and again that MHRA claims are to be construed in accordance with federal precedent.”).

         When a hostile work environment claim is based on the actions of a supervisor, a plaintiff must show: “(1) that [he] belongs to a protected group; (2) [he] was subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) a casual nexus exists between the harassment and the plaintiff's protected group status; and (4) the harassment affected a term, condition or privilege of [his] employment.” Gordon v. Shafer Contracting Co., Inc., 469 F.3d 1191, 1195-96 (8th Cir. 2006). When a hostile work environment claim is based on the acts of a non-supervisor, a plaintiff “must show that his employer knew or should ...

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