United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Gerri M. Rech, Plaintiff,
Alter Trading Corporation, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is
Gerri Rech worked at Defendant Alter Trading Company as a
scale clerk from October 2008 until November 2015. (Ives Aff.
(Docket No. 29) Ex. D-2 (Rech Dep.) at 40.) Alter is a scrap
metal company headquartered in Missouri; Rech worked at
Alter's facility in St. Paul. (O'Leary Aff. (Docket
No. 26) ¶ 5.) She claims that she was repeatedly
harassed by both her immediate supervisor and the
facility's general manager and that the harassment forced
her to take a medical leave. She was ultimately terminated
and did not ever return to work. Alter contends that her
termination was part of a reduction in force after a sharp
downturn in the scrap metal industry, and that Rech was
chosen for termination because of her poor performance and
because she was in an unprotected leave status, not because
she is a woman.
was one of the only women employed at Alter's St. Paul
facility. She worked at the front desk, weighing scrap cargo
and paying customers for the scrap. (Rech Dep. at 42; LaSee
Aff. (Docket No. 28) Ex. C-2 (description of scale
clerk's duties).) In 2013, the facility's general
manager left his position, and Doug Reisdorfer became general
manager. According to Rech, at about the same time, her
immediate supervisor, Gary Stevens, began harassing her,
calling her a “dumb broad” and making other
insulting comments in front of other workers and customers.
(Rech Dep. 50-51.) Rech also claims that Stevens ripped up
the applications of females applying for open position
following another female employee's retirement. Stevens
told Rech that he did not want to work with women and that
Alter would not hire another woman for 40 years.
(Id. at 51, 71.) She asserts that a prior female
clerk filed a complaint against Stevens, and Stevens told
Rech that the “b*tch tried to get me fired” but
that he was “sneaky” and “got away with
it.” (Id. at 66, 69.) Rech alleges that
Stevens showed her a copy of the complaint (id. at
67-68), but Alter has no record of any complaint being filed
against Stevens by any other employee. (LaSee Aff. ¶
August 2014, Rech contends that Stevens yelled at her,
telling her that he “f-ing hate[d]” her and that
he wished she would “f-ing quit.” (Rech Dep.
64-66.) Rech became so upset that she walked out to the
loading dock to call Reisdorfer. (Id.) While she was
on the phone with Reisdorfer, Stevens allegedly locked the
door behind her so that she could not return to her office.
(Id.) Reisdorfer reported the incident to
Alter's Human Resources department.
HR investigated the incident and conducted interviews with
Rech, Stevens, and other employees at the St. Paul facility.
(LaSee Aff. ¶ 11.) Alter ultimately determined that
Rech's allegations were not substantiated and that,
instead, Rech herself had committed violations of company
policy by taking excessively long breaks and talking to other
employees and to customers about her co-workers.
(Id. Ex. C-4.) Alter's HR staff also counseled
Stevens to improve his relationship with Rech. (Id.)
Rech contends that Reisdorfer started papering her personnel
file with either incorrect or overblown violations of company
policy. According to Rech, before she reported Stevens's
behavior, she had never had a negative performance report.
After she complained about Stevens, however, she received
multiple negative reports. In December 2014, Alter's HR
followed up with Rech about the situation with Stevens. She
reported that things were much better and that she was
“happy with Gary.” (LaSee Aff. Ex. C-5.) Rech
alleges that Stevens resumed his verbal harassment shortly
thereafter but she did not want to report it because of the
retaliation she had experienced. (Rech Dep. at 81.)
2015, Rech took a medical leave of absence. (Id. at
122.) She received FMLA leave from Alter and short-term
disability insurance payments from Alter's disability
insurance carrier. (Id. at 123.) Alter contends that
Rech stopped providing medical information to Alter and the
insurer in August, despite multiple requests that she provide
updated information. (LaSee Aff. ¶ 36.) Rech asserts
that she asked her doctor to send medical information to
Alter but that he apparently did not comply. (Rech Dep. at
126.) Her leave expired in mid-October (id. at 135),
and although Alter contacted her several times to ascertain
when she planned to return to work, she did not respond.
(Id. at 136.)
Alter claims that it was planning a company-wide reduction in
force (“RIF”), and Rech was selected for
termination. Alter attributes Rech's selection to her
negative performance reviews, her failure to communicate when
she planned to return to work, and her failure to return to
work despite exhausting FMLA leave. (Reisdorfer Aff. (Docket
No. 27) ¶ 22.) Rech was the only female of the 11
employees in the Northern Lakes Region selected for the
RIF. (O'Leary Aff. ¶ 13.) Stevens was also selected
for the RIF, although he had previously decided to retire in
December 2015, only a month after the RIF. (Reisdorfer Aff.
¶ 21.) Another male employee at the St. Paul facility
was also included in the RIF, but he died before the RIF took
effect. (Id. ¶ 20.) Alter contends that it laid
off employees nationwide, but it does not specify the
percentage of its workforce included in the RIF.
asserts that it did not re-fill Rech's position until May
2017, when it hired a female to fill the position. Rech
testified in her deposition that she did not know whether she
was replaced or who replaced her. (Rech. Dep. at 180.)
filed a charge of discrimination with the Minnesota
Department of Human Rights on March 7, 2016. The charge
raises both harassment and reprisal on the basis of sex. Rech
elected to file suit rather than proceed with the MDHR
charge, Minn. Stat. § 363A.33, and commenced this
lawsuit in state court on May 30, 2017. Alter timely removed
the case to federal court. Count I of Rech's Complaint
claims hostile work environment in violation of the Minnesota
Human Rights Act, Count II is a claim for wrongful discharge
under the MHRA, and Count III raises a wrongful-discharge
claim under Title VII.
seeks summary judgment on all counts. It contends first that
Rech's hostile-work-environment claim is untimely because
the events on which that claim is based happened in 2014,
well beyond the MHRA's one-year statute of limitations.
Alter also argues that Rech has failed to make out a prima
facie case of hostile work environment because the harassment
of which she complains was not severe and pervasive enough to
alter the terms and conditions of her employment. Finally,
Alter argues that Rech's wrongful-discharge claims fail
because she has no evidence, direct or indirect, of a
discriminatory motive with respect to her termination, and
that, regardless, Alter's stated reasons for her
termination were not pretextual.
response to Alter's Motion, Rech filed a declaration that
differs in material respects from her deposition testimony.
(Rech Decl. (Docket No. 31).) As only one example, she
testified in her deposition that she did not know who
replaced her after she was terminated (Rech Dep. 180), but
her declaration contends that she was replaced by a male
co-worker. (Rech Decl. ¶ 148.) Rech attempts to excuse
these inconsistencies, claiming that Alter failed to include
the complete transcript of her deposition in its submissions
and that the missing pages would have “clarified or
explained” many of the topics addressed in her