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Schrammen v. Conagra Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 12, 2018


          Terrance Schrammen, Pro Se Plaintiff

          Scott Daniel Meyers, Esq., Husch Blackwell LLP, for Defendant


          DAVID T. SCHULTZ, United States Magistrate Judge


         The Court recommends that Plaintiff's lawsuit be dismissed. Plaintiff has not shown evidence that ConAgra fired Plaintiff for improper reasons.


         ConAgra Foods (“ConAgra”) terminated Plaintiff Terrance Schrammen's (“Schrammen”) employment on September 12, 2014. Schrammen sued ConAgra, arguing he was fired in retaliation for internally reporting safety issues at the plant where he worked and for filing a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. ConAgra has moved for summary judgment, arguing they fired Schrammen for performance issues and disruptive behavior. Because Schrammen has failed to provide evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the performance reasons provided by ConAgra for his termination were a pretext for retaliating against him, the Court recommends that ConAgra's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 58] be granted.


         On May 22, 2014, Schrammen began working as a Line Helper for second shift operations at ConAgra's Fridley, Minnesota plant. Schrammen Depo. 15, Docket No. 61-2. Before commencing his employment, Schrammen received and signed a copy of ConAgra's code of conduct. Id. at 24-25. The Code prohibited employees from engaging in disruptive behavior (e.g. swearing, harassment, fighting); detailed the protocol for reporting safety concerns; and made assurances against retaliation. Code of Conduct 7-11, Docket No. 61-17. Schrammen also attended an orientation training that included discussions on “hazard communication” and “prohibited harassment.” Schrammen Depo. 21, Docket No. 61-2. Schrammen was aware of ConAgra's policies in these areas and knew that violating the Code could lead to his termination. Id. at 24-25.

         As a new employee, Schrammen's continued employment was subject to a 45-day probationary period. Id. at 16-17. During that period, Schrammen was given performance reviews every 15 days, which evaluated his performance in seven different areas. Id. at 77. At 15 days, Schrammen was deemed “good” in all seven; at 30 days, he was “good” in five and “unknown or not applicable” in two. Performance Reviews, Docket Nos. 61-14, 61-15. Schrammen's review was overseen by two of ConAgra's production supervisors, Rose Krieger and Randy Hoover. Schrammen Depo. 26, 66, 78, 84, Docket No. 61-2.

         Shortly after his 30-day review, Schrammen drew attention when, at a safety meeting, he loudly and repeatedly complained that ConAgra had long neglected to address safety issues, particularly involving a leaking pan washer. Id. at 56-62. ConAgra followed up with Schrammen to address his concern and inform him the safety issue he had raised was already fixed. Id. at 64-65. That interaction heightened ConAgra's concern with Schrammen, as he was “really hyper and animated” and “angry.” Human Resources Investigation 6-7, Docket No. 61-5. Schrammen quickly developed a reputation for being “a hothead” who was “always complaining” and who “scared” people and refused orders. Id.

         Issues with Schrammen's performance persisted. Schrammen was noted to have used profanity, despite previous warnings not to swear. Schrammen Depo. 26-28, Docket No. 61-2. As a result of his behavioral issues, Schrammen's probationary period was extended 15 days. HR Email, Docket No. 61-6. Schrammen contacted Anne Woodfin, the facility's Human Resource Manager, to set up a meeting to discuss the extension. Schrammen Depo. 95-96, Docket No. 61-2. At this August 26, 2014 meeting, Schrammen was visibly upset and began yelling and thrashing his arms. Id. at 87-88; Human Resources Investigation 3-4, Docket No. 61-5. Schrammen complained that the pan washer safety issue had not been fixed despite informing Rose Krieger. Schrammen Depo. 109-111, Docket No. 61-2. Schrammen also mocked his supervisor, Randy Hoover. Human Resources Investigation 4, Docket No. 61-5.

         Alarmed by Schrammen's erratic behavior and fearful for the safety of those in attendance, Ms. Woodfin ended the meeting. Id. Schrammen was escorted out of the building, and suspended pending further investigation. Schrammen Depo. 137-142, Docket No. 61-2. Two days later, Schrammen filed a MNOSHA complaint with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry alleging discrimination by ConAgra. Docket No. 61-11. Schrammen did not inform ConAgra of his complaint. Schrammen Depo. 151-53, Docket No. 61-2 During Schrammen's suspension, ConAgra conducted an investigation regarding his behavior. Ketelsen Aff. ¶ 7, Docket No. 61-1. That investigation uncovered further examples of Schrammen's disruptive and uncooperative behavior while at work, such as yelling at colleagues and refusing to rotate, as well as a pattern of making sexist comments. Human Resources Investigation 1-7, Docket No. 61-5. Some of Schrammen's co-workers feared him, and others felt uncomfortable working with him because of his “anger issues.” Id.

         On September 12, 2014, ConAgra managers met to discuss Schrammen's actions and chose to terminate his employment. Ketelsen Aff. ¶¶ 8-9, Docket No. 61-1. In their letter informing Schrammen of his termination, ConAgra wrote that he had been fired for his angry outbursts and his failure to take responsibility for his actions, including swearing, yelling and mocking co-workers. Termination Ltr., Docket No. 61-8. At the time they fired Schrammen, the managers who made the decision were unaware of Schrammen's MNOSHA complaint; ConAgra received a certified letter of the Complaint on September 12, 2014, Certified Ltr., Docket No. ...

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