of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts.
A. Smith, Nichols Kaster, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for
Marshall H. Tanick, Teresa J. Ayling, Hellmuth & Johnson,
PLLC, Edina, Minnesota, for appellant.
Swanson, Attorney General, Margaret Jacot, Assistant Attorney
General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae
Commissioner of the Department of Human Rights.
Douglas A. Micko, Marisa C. Katz, Brian Rochel, Teske Micko
Katz Kitzer & Rochel, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and
Frances E. Baillon, Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta, LLP,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae National Employment
Lawyers Association-Minnesota Chapter.
L. Lienemann, Culberth & Lienemann, LLP, Saint Paul,
D. Cummins, Cummins & Cummins, LLP, Minneapolis
Minnesota, for amicus curiae Employee Lawyers Association of
the Upper Midwest.
R. Gaulding, Lisa C. Stratton, Christy L. Hall, Saint Paul,
Minnesota, for amicus curiae Gender Justice.
Margaret R. Ryan, Jacalyn N. Chinander, Meagher & Geer,
PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and
William J. Davidson, Lind, Jensen, Sullivan & Peterson,
PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota
Defense Lawyers Association.
plaintiff asserting a pregnancy discrimination claim under
the Minnesota Human Rights Act under a disparate-treatment
theory proves her claim if she shows that pregnancy
"actually motivated" the challenged decision.
the appellate court is unable to determine whether the
district court, if it applied the correct law, would make the
same findings of fact, a remand is appropriate.
question presented in this case is whether appellant, Family
Orthodontics, P.A., discriminated against respondent Nicole
LaPoint. LaPoint applied for a job with Family Orthodontics
and Family Orthodontics' owner, Dr. Angela Ross, offered
LaPoint a job as an orthodontic assistant. After LaPoint told
Dr. Ross that she was pregnant, and they discussed the amount
of leave available for LaPoint's pregnancy, Family
Orthodontics rescinded its job offer. LaPoint sued Family
Orthodontics for sex discrimination under the Minnesota Human
Rights Act (MHRA), Minn. Stat. § 363A.01-.44 (2016),
claiming that Family Orthodontics discriminated against her
because of her pregnancy. After a bench trial, the district
court entered judgment for Family Orthodontics, concluding
that Dr. Ross's decision was not discriminatory. The
court of appeals reversed, ruling as a matter of law that
Family Orthodontics had discriminated against LaPoint.
Because we conclude that the district court's findings
are not clearly erroneous but that faulty legal reasoning may
have impacted the findings, we reverse and remand.
action arises from LaPoint's application to work as an
orthodontic assistant at Family Orthodontics. Family
Orthodontics is a small orthodontics clinic that Dr. Angela
Ross owns and operates. In early 2013, Family Orthodontics
had a job opening for an orthodontic assistant. LaPoint is an
experienced orthodontic assistant and an employee at the
clinic recommended LaPoint for the position. Dr. Ross reached
out to LaPoint and asked her to interview. Dr. Ross
interviewed LaPoint on the evening of Friday, March 22, 2013.
The parties agree that the interview went well. LaPoint
requested pay of $25-$27 per hour and two weeks of vacation
time. Dr. Ross did not ask LaPoint whether she was pregnant,
and the topic of pregnancy did not come up.
Ross then left for a family vacation out of state. On Sunday,
March 24, two days after the interview, Dr. Ross left LaPoint
a voicemail offering her the job. Later that day, LaPoint
called Dr. Ross and accepted the offer. During that
conversation, LaPoint told Dr. Ross that she was pregnant and
due in October.
Ross congratulated LaPoint and said that she was happy for
her. Dr. Ross asked LaPoint if she intended to return to work
after giving birth; LaPoint said that she did. Dr. Ross asked
her how much maternity leave she had taken after the birth of
her first child, and LaPoint said that she had taken 12
weeks. Dr. Ross inferred that LaPoint would want 12 weeks of
leave for her upcoming birth, and told LaPoint that Family
Orthodontics had a policy of allowing no more than 6 weeks of
maternity leave. LaPoint responded that she might be willing
to take a shorter leave, and said that she would consider 10
March 25, the morning after LaPoint called to accept the job,
Dr. Ross left a voicemail for LaPoint. In the voicemail, Dr.
Ross stated that she "did not sleep very well" the
night before, and that she was "not going to offer
[LaPoint] the job just yet" because she needed "a
couple more days to figure this out." Dr. Ross also
Frankly, two things really kept me from sleeping well. One of
them is why you didn't tell me on Friday that you were
pregnant, I'm just I just can't figure that piece out
. . . . And the other thing is that I have to make sure that
after training you for six months, that you going on leave
for three months is not going to disrupt the practice.
Ross said that she was going to put the job offer "on
hold." She invited LaPoint to contact her if she had
"some answers to those two concern[s]."
that same morning, Family Orthodontics reposted an ad on
Craigslist for the orthodontic assistant position. Dr. Ross
later testified that she posted the ad in order to seek
additional candidates in the event that LaPoint was not
responded by e-mail to Dr. Ross's voicemail, explaining
that she had not told Dr. Ross about the pregnancy at the
interview because it was still in an early stage, and she had
not even told her family yet. LaPoint wrote that she had
disclosed the pregnancy after accepting the offer as
"the action of a loyal employee who has the office's
best interest at heart." She assured Dr. Ross that she
planned to return to work after the birth. LaPoint did not
discuss the length of the leave in this e-mail.
next day, Dr. Ross sent an e-mail to LaPoint. She wrote:
"I think there was somewhat of a misunderstanding. The
reason why I withdrew the job offer yesterday (Monday)
morning was because I had two concerns." First, Dr. Ross
said that she was "confused" about why LaPoint told
her about the pregnancy after the job offer "but did not
say anything during [their] face to face interview" on
Friday. Second, she stated that employees at Family
Orthodontics "typically take off 6 weeks" for
maternity leave, and she was not sure that "a small
practice" like hers could handle LaPoint's
"requested 12 weeks off." Dr. Ross thanked LaPoint
for her email and wrote that she would "be in
touch" when she returned from vacation. The following
day, LaPoint sent Dr. Ross a short email stating that she
"look[ed] forward to speaking with [Dr. Ross] on the
telephone upon [her] return from vacation to clarify the two
Ross did not call or send another e-mail to LaPoint. She
testified that she was very busy after vacation, and that
hiring "wasn't on [her] radar." LaPoint did not
contact Dr. Ross again because she believed that "the
ball was in [Dr. Ross's] court." In May, Dr. Ross
eventually filled the orthodontic assistant position, hiring
a recent graduate who had previously interned at Family
Orthodontics. The new hire was not pregnant.
course of the communications described above, Dr. Ross made a
number of notations on a copy of LaPoint's resume. Around
the time LaPoint told Dr. Ross that she was pregnant, Dr.
Ross wrote "Pregnant?!" and "Due
10/13!" on the resume. After she left the voicemail
indicating that the job offer was "on hold, " Dr.
Ross wrote: "I L/M rescinding (rescinding) offer &
told her needed a few more days. 2 concerns: (1) why
didn't she ...