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Hustvet v. Allina Health System

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 22, 2017




         Plaintiff Janice Hustvet brings discrimination, unlawful inquiry, and retaliation claims against Defendant Allina Health System under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), primarily arising from Allina's decision to terminate Hustvet for failing to fulfill a job requirement that she have immunity to rubella. Both Parties moved for summary judgment. (See Dkt. Nos. 25, 46.) Allina also moved to exclude the testimony of Hustvet's expert witness. (See Dkt. No. 38.) For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Hustvet's motion and grants summary judgment in Allina's favor on all claims. The Court denies Allina's motion to exclude as moot.


         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To support an assertion that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed, a party must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record, ” show “that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, ” or show “that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court views the record and all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.


         Hustvet worked for Courage Center, out of its Golden Valley campus, as an Independent Living Specialist (“ILS”) for several years. (See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 1.) In May 2013, Courage Center announced it would be merging with Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, part of Allina, on June 1, 2013. (Id. ¶ 7.) As a condition of continued employment, Allina required all ILSs to complete a health screen, which, among other things, included testing for immunity to certain communicable diseases and a “Respirator Medical Evaluation” (“RME”). (See Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) The RME, which is based on OSHA standard forms, asked questions about potential health conditions directed at evaluating safe respirator fit and use. (See Dkt. No. 28-10.)

         Testing revealed that Hustvet had immunity to mumps, measles, and varicella (chickenpox), but that she lacked immunity to rubella. (See Dkt. No. 29.) Hustvet did not complete the RME and instead wrote “N.A.” on the form because her supervisor told Hustvet that the form did not pertain to her position as an ILS. (See Deposition of Janice Hustvet (“Hustvet Dep.”) 185:17-23, Dkt. No. 66.) Allina informed Hustvet that she would need to submit a full RME and develop immunity to rubella by taking a Mumps, Measles, Rubella (“MMR”) vaccine. (See Dkt. No. 28-13 at 3-4.) Hustvet did not comply with either request, but later stated she was willing to complete the RME, despite her feeling that it was invasive and unnecessary. (See Hustvet Dep. 66:10-16, 118:3-6, 140:2-5, 170:10-15, 186:15-25, 214:6-9 216:25-2; Deposition of Heather Lindblom (“Lindblom Dep.”) 184:13-19, Dkt. No. 28-2; Dkt. No. 28-13 at 3.) However, Hustvet never completed the RME, nor did she develop immunity to rubella. (See Dkt. No. 28-13 at 1.)

         Hustvet told Allina that she was concerned about taking the MMR vaccine because her “health is of the utmost concern” and because she “had severe cases of mumps and measles-the MM part of the MMR.” (See Id. at 3.) She also stated that she has “many allergies and chemical sensitivities, ” such that she needed to limit her “exposure.” (Id.; see Hustvet Dep. 76:7-77:5, 82:9-21.) Based on these factors, she concluded that “[i]t would be unwise and unhealthy to expose [her]self to those unneeded parts of the vaccine.” (Dkt. No. 28-13 at 3.) She offered to take a rubella-only vaccine instead of the MMR vaccine. (See Id. at 2.) However, a rubella-only vaccine was not available in the U.S. (See Id. at 1; Dkt. No. 28-19 at 20.)

         Allina's immunization policy applies to all employees who have patient or client contact, regardless of location or job title. (See Dkt. Nos. 28-9 at 1-2, 28-13 at 4.) The policy aligns with the CDC's recommendation that all healthcare professionals[1] with direct patient contact have immunity to mumps, measles, and rubella. (See Dkt. No. 28-19 at 4, 20.) In her position as an ILS, Hustvet worked one-on-one with clients in their homes, helping them with everyday chores and skills learning. (See Hustvet Dep.71:2-25.) Her clients were fragile and immuno-compromised, and they received regular assistance and medical care. (Id. at 73:9-20; 74:8-11.) Hustvet accompanied clients to doctors' appointments. (Deposition of Cynthia Guddal (“Guddal Dep.”) 13:17-24, Dkt. No. 28-3.) She also periodically visited the Courage Center's Golden Valley campus for meetings. (See Hustvet Dep. 159:12-23.) That campus includes inpatient rehabilitation clinics and other fitness facilities. (See Lindblom Dep. 15:16-24, 25:17-26:18.) When attending meetings in the building, Hustvet came into close proximity with rehabilitation clinics and their patients. (Guddal Dep. 21:20-22:24, 24:14-19.)

         On July 9, 2013, Allina terminated Hustvet's employment due to her failure to comply with immunity requirements and to complete the RME. (See Dkt. No. 28-13 at 1.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Disability Discrimination

         Hustvet brings disability discrimination claims under the ADA and MHRA against Allina for utilizing discriminatory qualification standards, not making reasonable accommodations, and denying employment on the basis of disability. (See Compl. ¶¶ 28, 36-37.)

         Claims for disability discrimination in violation of the ADA or MHRA are analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. See Dovenmuehler v. St. Cloud Hosp., 509 F.3d 435, 439 & n.4 (8th Cir. 2007). Under this framework, Hustvet must show that (1) she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA or MHRA, (2) she is qualified to perform the essential functions of her job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and (3) she suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability. Id. at 439. If Hustvet meets her burden of making out this prima facie case, the burden shifts to Allina to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action. See Id. If it does so, Hustvet must show that Allina's reason is pretext for discrimination. See id.

         1. Disability

         To demonstrate that she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA and MHRA, Hustvet must show that she: (1) has a physical, sensory, or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1); Minn. Stat. § 363A.03, subd. 12 (2017); Dovenmuehler, 509 F.3d at 439. Relevant to this case, major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, eating, concentrating, interacting with others, and working. See § 12102(2)(A); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)(1)(i). They also include the operation of major bodily functions, such as the functions of the immune and other systems. See § 12102(2)(B); § 1630.2(i)(1)(ii).

         A limitation must be “substantial.” See § 12102(1)(A); § 363A.03, subd. 12.[2] That is, it must substantially limit the plaintiff's ability to perform a major life activity “as compared to most people in the general population.” § 1630.2(j)(1)(ii). Although “[a]n impairment need not prevent, or significantly or severely restrict, the individual from performing a major life activity in order to be considered substantially limiting . . . . not every impairment will constitute a disability.” Id. Whether a major life activity is substantially limiting is a fact-specific inquiry. Land v. Baptist Med. Ctr., 164 F.3d 423, 425 (8th Cir. 1999).

         Hustvet does not argue or put forth evidence showing that Allina regarded her as having a disability. Instead, Hustvet asserts that she is actually disabled, as shown by her impairments and/or her record of impairments. (See Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“D.S.J. Pl. Br.”) 10-11, 34-37, Dkt. No. 77; Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Her Motion for Summary Judgment (“P.S.J. Pl. Br.”) 8-9, Dkt. No. 61.) She argues that her conditions limited her performance of major life activities (such as breathing, eating, caring for oneself, cleaning, and socializing) and major bodily functions (including the functioning of her immune, digestive, neurological, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems). (See D.S.J. Pl. Br. 11, 35.)

         There is insufficient evidence in the record to support the conclusion that Hustvet's conditions substantially limit her ability to perform major life activities. For example, the record shows that Hustvet has garden-variety allergies to various foods, grass, pets, trees, etc. (See Hustvet Dep. 82:25-86:14.) She has “typical” allergic reactions, such as “itchy runny eyes and nose.” (Id. at 87:6-9.) She has never been prescribed an Epi-Pen. (See Id. at 87:18-19.) She is generally able to breath, eat, care for herself, clean, and socialize, but sometimes she must avoid certain fragrances and chemicals by relocating herself farther away from the ...

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