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McBee v. Team Industries, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

January 16, 2018

Thaleaha McBee, Appellant,
v.
Team Industries, Inc., Respondent.

         Becker County District Court File No. 03-CV-15-1470

          Daniel Gray Leland, Leland Law, P.L.L.C., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Ryan T. Conners, Conners Law, P.L.C., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Christopher J. Harristhal, John A. Kvinge, Larkin, Hoffman, Daly & Lindgren, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Bjorkman, Judge; and Reyes, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         I. The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) does not require an employer to engage in an interactive process to determine whether an appropriate reasonable accommodation is necessary.

         II. Where a reprisal claim based on retaliatory discharge mirrors a disability-discrimination claim in both facts and law, a successful serious-threat defense may apply to preclude the retaliatory-based reprisal claim.

          OPINION

          REYES, Judge

         In this appeal from a grant of summary judgment, appellant, former employee Thaleaha McBee, argues that the district court erred in dismissing her MHRA disability-discrimination, failure-to-accommodate, and reprisal claims, as well as her workers' compensation retaliation claim against her former employer, respondent Team Industries, Inc. (Team). We affirm.

         FACTS

         Team is an engineering and manufacturing company. Its Detroit Lakes facility is a foundry and aluminum die-casting facility. Team employed McBee as a "cell member, " or machine operator, in the production department. The cell-member job required operators to be able to operate, maintain, and repair heavy machinery, move heavy metal parts, and lift objects weighing 30 pounds or more.

         In February 2015, McBee sought medical attention for severe pain in her hands, back, and neck, including numbness in her hands and arms. In March 2015, McBee's doctor gave her a ten-pound lifting restriction due to disc narrowing, a bulged disc, and bone spurs in her vertebrae. On March 10, 2015, McBee informed her supervisors at Team of her lifting restriction, who then instructed her to discuss the restriction with human resources. McBee's supervisors placed her on a machine that produced parts weighing less than ten pounds, and she finished her shift. The next day, McBee met with human resources to discuss possible accommodations. Team terminated McBee on March 12, 2015, due to concerns relating to her medical restriction.

         McBee filed suit in district court alleging violations of the MHRA, Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.01-.43 (2016 & Supp. 2017), and the Minnesota workers' compensation act (MWCA), Minn. Stat. §§ 176.001-176.862 (2016). The district court granted Team's motion for summary judgment, concluding as to the disability-discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims that (1) McBee was not a qualified person with a disability because she could not perform an essential function of her job; (2) no reasonable accommodation could have allowed McBee to continue her employment; (3) even if McBee could have been accommodated, her continued employment posed a threat of serious harm to herself and others; (4) the MHRA does not require an employer to engage in an interactive process; and (5) McBee's use of sedating medications did not render her unqualified. On the reprisal claim, the district court determined that "allowing [it] to continue after finding a 'serious threat' would completely abrogate the statutory exception." As to the workers' compensation claim, the district court determined that McBee did not engage in protected conduct. This appeal follows.

         ISSUES

         I. Did the district court err in dismissing McBee's MHRA disability-discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims on summary judgment?

          II. Did the district court err in dismissing McBee's MHRA reprisal claim on summary judgment based on the determination that allowing her claim to continue would abrogate the serious-threat affirmative defense?

         III. Did the district court err in dismissing McBee's workers' compensation retaliation claim on summary judgment based on the determination that she did not engage in protected conduct?

         ANALYSIS

         "A motion for summary judgment shall be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993); see Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03. "We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted." STAR Ctrs., Inc. v. Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., 644 N.W.2d 72, 76-77 (Minn. 2002). "We review a district court's summary judgment decision de novo. In doing so, we determine whether the district court properly applied the law and whether there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment." Riverview Muir Doran, LLC v. JADT Dev. Grp., LLC, 790 N.W.2d 167, 170 (Minn. 2010) (citation omitted).

         I. The district court did not err in dismissing McBee's MHRA disability-discrimination and ...


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