County District Court File No. 03-CV-15-1470
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
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge;
Bjorkman, Judge; and Reyes, Judge.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
the district court err in dismissing McBee's MHRA
disability-discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims
on summary judgment?
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?
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?
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).
The district court did not err in dismissing McBee's MHRA
disability-discrimination and ...