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O'Brien v. Permasteelisa North America Corp.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 4, 2017

Erin O'Brien, Plaintiff,
v.
Permasteelisa North America Corp., Defendant.

          Ryan H. Ahlberg, Esq. and Ahlberg Law, PLLC, counsel for plaintiff.

          Alec J. Beck, Esq. and Ford & Harrison LLP, counsel for defendant.

          ORDER

          David S. Doty, Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the court upon the motion for summary judgment by defendant Permasteelisa North America Corp (PNAC). Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         This employment dispute arises out of PNAC's decision to fire plaintiff Erin O'Brien.[1] PNAC employed O'Brien as a Document Controller at its Mendota Heights location from March through October 2015. O'Brien's direct supervisor was Mileah Mott, whose supervisor was department director Derick Koprek. Koprek, with Mott present, gave O'Brien standard performance reviews on April 17 and May 26. Koprek Aff. ¶ 3. During those reviews, Koprek and Mott informed O'Brien that she needed to improve the accuracy of her work, increase her confidence, and spend less time on her phone. Id.; id. Ex. A, at 1, 3, 7.

         In August, Koprek continued to have concerns with the quality of O'Brien's work, which he discussed with human resources representative, Amelia Dube. Id. ¶ 4. Dube recommended that O'Brien participate in a performance improvement plan (PIP) and forwarded a PIP document to Koprek. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. The PIP informed O'Brien that she must improve her attention to detail, reliability, and work ethic and that her failure to do so could lead to termination. See Kyle Aff. Ex. A. On September 19, O'Brien signed the PIP. Id.; see Koprek Aff. ¶ 5.

         O'Brien subsequently told Cara Peterson, another manager at the Mendota Heights office, that she was uncomfortable with the plan because she thought it was too vague.[2] Kyle Aff. ¶ 5; see id. Ex. B. Peterson informed Emily Kyle, a human resources supervisor, about O'Brien's concerns and that O'Brien had other complaints that needed to be addressed. Id. ¶ 5; see id. Ex. B. Following her conversation with Peterson, on September 22, Kyle had a conference call with Koprek, Dube and O'Brien to address O'Brien's concerns. Kyle Aff. ¶ 6. At the meeting, O'Brien complained about Mott's behavior toward her, and Kyle instructed O'Brien to put her complaints in writing. Id.

         On September 23, O'Brien emailed her complaints to Kyle. Id. ¶ 7; see id. Ex. C. Among other things, O'Brien complained that Mott had slammed her fists on her desk, cursed at her, and called her and other co-workers “retards.” Id. Ex. C. Kyle and Dube investigated O'Brien's complaints, and Mott admitted to using profanity and slamming her fists on O'Brien's desk but denied using the word “retarded.” Id. Ex. F. Kyle and Dube gave Mott a written warning and informed O'Brien about the results of the investigation. Id. Exs. G, H.

         On September 25, in an attempt to address O'Brien's concerns about the first PIP, human resources sent an amended PIP to Koprek. Kyle Aff. ¶ 8; see id. Ex. D. Koprek met with O'Brien to go over the new PIP, but O'Brien refused to sign it. Koprek Aff. ¶ 6. She was still expected to improve her performance, however. Kyle Aff. ¶ 8.

         On October 9, Koprek and Dube met with O'Brien to discuss her progress under the PIP and noted several areas where they believed O'Brien's performance continued to be deficient. Koprek Aff. ¶ 7; see id. Ex. A. at 8. The next PIP progress meeting was scheduled for October 23. Koprek Dep. 15:1-5. By October 20, however, Koprek and Jason Serbousek, the design department manager, believed that O'Brien's attitude had worsened and that she was not meeting the goals of the PIP. Kyle Aff. ¶ 11. As a result, on October 20, Dube, Kyle, Koprek, and Serbousek scheduled a meeting with O'Brien at the end of the day without advance notice. O'Brien Dep. at 141:14-25; Koprek Dep. at 19:18-20:6. At the meeting, they attempted to discuss the PIP with O'Brien, but she left abruptly, apparently because she was uncomfortable with the impromptu nature of the meeting. O'Brien Dep. at 142:17-143:4; Koprek Dep. at 20:18-21. After the meeting, Koprek, Kyle, and Serbousek concluded that it did not make sense to continue to pursue the PIP. Koprek Aff. ¶ 9. Kyle then consulted with David Halpert, director of human resources for North America, and they decided to fire O'Brien. Id. ¶¶ 9-10; Kyle Aff. ¶¶ 12-13.

         On March 8, 2016, O'Brien filed suit against PNAC in state court asserting claims of discrimination under the MHRA and promissory estoppel based on PNAC's anti-harassment policy, and PNAC timely removed.[3] PNAC now moves for summary judgment.

         DISCUSSION

         I. ...


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