United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Gary D. Brunckhorst, Plaintiff,
City of Oak Park Heights, Defendant.
E. Glennon, Esq., Thomas E. Glennon, P.A., counsel for
Anne Fleming-Wolfe, Esq., Fleming-Wolfe Law, P.A., counsel
MEMORANDUM OPNION AND ORDER
DONOVAN W. FRANK United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment
by Defendant City of Oak Park Heights
(“Defendant” or the “City”). (Doc.
No. 19.) This case centers on alleged discrimination claims
under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
(“ADA”) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act
(“MHRA”). Plaintiff Gary Brunckhorst brought this
action after he was terminated by the City from his position
as Senior Accountant/Payroll Technician (“Senior
Accountant”). (See generally Doc. No. 1
(“Compl.”).) For the reasons set forth below, the
Court grants the City's motion.
was employed by the City as a Senior Accountant from January
1999 until his termination in April 2015. In this role,
Brunckhorst was responsible for managing the payroll
functions of the department, which included maintaining
employee files, collecting time cards, issuing paychecks, and
assisting other employees with changes to their withholdings.
(Doc. No. 21 (“Flemming-Wolfe Aff.”) ¶ 2,
Ex. 1 (“Plaintiff Dep.”) at 12.) In addition,
Plaintiff provided backup for accounts payable and utility
billing. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff also performed basic
IT functions, such as purchasing and setting up computers,
and maintaining the servers and the network. (Id. at
10-11.) Brunckhorst's supervisor also stated that
Brunckhorst would provide back-up support to the front office
by answering phones when needed. (Flemming-Wolfe Aff. ¶
4, Ex. 3 (“Caruso Dep.”) at 17.) Brunckhorst
received satisfactory performance reviews. (Id.
¶ 3, Ex. 2 (“Johnson Dep.”) at 32-33.)
description for a Senior Accountant listed various
“Essential Functions” including:
• Record, maintain, balance, and reconcile accounts
payable, accounts receivable, payroll, utilities and cash for
• Prepare payroll and review to ensure accuracy
including fringe benefits and leave calculations.
• Provide technical maintenance support for PC's
and/or computer network. Assist users with applications as
• Installs hardware, including peripherals. Load
Programs and generally prepare systems for users.
• Prepare payroll reporting for quarterly and annual
transmissions to the proper agencies.
. . .
• Performs general accounting procedures as directed by
the Finance Director.
(Flemming-Wolfe Aff. ¶ 5, Ex. 4 (“Job
Description”).) Additionally, the Job Description
indicated that a Senior Accountant may need to lift or move
up to forty pounds and that the Senior Accountant would
frequently be required to stand, walk, sit, and reach with
hands and arms. Id.
around April 15, 2014, Brunckhorst contracted Fournier's
Gangrenous Necrotizing Fasciitis, a life-threating disease
(Plaintiff Dep. at 55-57), which resulted in bilateral leg
neuropathy, acute kidney injury, and lumbar radiculopathy.
(Flemming-Wolfe Aff. ¶14, Ex. 13.) Brunckhorst requested
and was granted twelve weeks of leave under the Family
Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). (Flemming-Wolfe Aff.
¶ 6, Ex. 5.) At the end of the twelve weeks, the City
wrote to Brunckhorst explaining that his leave was exhausted
and requesting that they “begin a dialog”
regarding a potential return to work date. (Id.) The
City also noted that if Brunckhorst needed additional time,
then he could request additional unpaid leave under City
Ordinance 203.14(B)(2). (Id.) This ordinance allows
the City Administrator, at his or her discretion, to grant an
employee ninety days' unpaid leave of absence, with the
option for an extension not exceeding one year.
(Flemming-Wolfe Aff. ¶ 7, Ex. 6 (“City
29, 2014, Brunckhorst wrote to the City requesting an
indefinite unpaid leave of absence under the City Ordinance
because he was still recovering and unable to return to work.
(Flemming-Wolfe Aff. ¶ 8, Ex. 7.) On August 11, 2014,
the City granted him sixty days' leave and requested a
health status update by September 29, 2014, noting the
potential for up to thirty additional days of leave.
(Id. ¶ 9, Ex. 8.) On September 15, 2014, the
City sent Brunckhorst the Senior Accountant Job Description
and requested that Brunckhorst's doctor confirm that
Brunckhorst could perform the Senior Accountant's
essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation.
(Id. ¶ 10, Ex. 9.) On September 26, 2014,
Brunckhorst requested an additional thirty days' leave
and included a letter from his doctor stating that
Brunckhorst would likely be unable to return to work even
after thirty more days. (Id. ¶ 11, Ex.10.) The
City granted the additional thirty days' leave on
September 30, 2014, reaching the ninety-day threshold.
(Id. ¶ 12, Ex. 11.)
October 24, 2014, the City requested an update on
Brunckhorst's progress, as he had exhausted FMLA leave
and the ninety days' unpaid leave under the City
Ordinance. (Id. ¶ 13, Ex. 12.) In particular,
the City stated: “Based on your follow-up, we want to
determine from your doctor whether you can perform your job
duties with or without reasonable accommodation, and whether
you are able to perform your job safely.”
(Id.) The City also included a Medical Certification
form with the letter, which the City requested be completed
by November 7, 2014. (Id.) On November 6, 2014,
Brunckhorst indicated that he would not be able to return to
work until December 1, 2014, and requested additional leave
until he was cleared. (Id. ¶ 14, Ex. 13.)
November 14, 2014, the City extended Plaintiff's leave
through December 1, 2014. (Flemming-Wolfe Aff. ¶ 15, Ex.
14.) The City also requested that a Medical Certification
form be completed indicating a potential return date and any
accommodations that may be needed to safely perform the job
duties. (Id.) On November 24, 2014,
Brunckhorst's doctor returned the form and indicated that
Brunckhorst would be unable to return to work by December 1,
2014, but may be able to return by January 1, 2015.
(Id. ¶ 16, Ex. 15.)
Brunckhorst was on leave, many of his duties were assumed by
others: City Finance Director Betty Caruso and Accountant
Judy Tetzlaff took over Brunckhorst's finance and payroll
duties, while the City's computer consultant assumed
Brunckhorst's IT responsibilities. (Johnson Dep. at
37-38.) As a result, City Administrator Eric Johnson told the
City Council at a meeting on November 12, 2014, that the
Senior Accountant position may not be needed because the
duties could be absorbed by other employees. (Flemming-Wolfe
Aff. ¶ 17, Ex. 16.) Once the City determined that the
Senior Accountant was no longer needed, the City created a
Utility Billing/Accountant Technician position to allow
Brunckhorst to return to a job with the City. (Johnson Dep.
December 22, 2014, City Administrator Johnson invited
Brunckhorst to a meeting with him and Finance Director
Caruso. At this meeting, Brunckhorst was informed that the
City planned to eliminate the position of Senior Accountant,
but that the Utility Billing position would be available if
he wanted to remain with the City. (Johnson Dep. at 68-69.)
It was at this meeting that Brunckhorst first complained to
the City that he felt that the City was discriminating
against him based on his disability. (Plaintiff Dep. at 155.)
In a follow-up letter to Brunckhorst on December, 232014,
Johnson stated that “due to the fact that certain
functional portions of your position . . . are no longer
needed, your former position has essentially been
eliminated.” (Flemming-Wolfe Aff. ¶ 17, Ex. 18.)
The letter also explained that the City would create a new
full-time position--Utility Billing/Accounting
Technician--which paid approximately $50, 000. Id.
The letter also offered Brunckhorst a severance package as an
alternative to the Utility Billing position. Brunckhorst did
not accept either option ...