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Findlator v. Allina Health Clinics

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 17, 2018

Leah Findlator, Plaintiff,
v.
Allina Health Clinics, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JOAN N. ERICKSEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Allina Health Clinics (“Allina”) terminated Plaintiff Leah Findlator following an altercation between Findlator and her colleague, Leah Baruch. ECF No. 4. Findlator filed a complaint against Allina asserting three claims arising from this termination: (1) race and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (2) race and national origin discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act; and (3) intentional inflict of emotional distress. Id.

         Allina now moves for summary judgment on all claims. Findlator opposes the motion. The Court grants summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         Findlator is “a black woman from the United Kingdom.” ECF Nos. 4 at 1; 26 at 17. She began working for Allina as a Laboratory Technician in August of 2012. From 2012 until December of 2016, Allina never disciplined Findlator and generally gave her positive performance evaluations.

         “Immediately [after Findlator] started working for Allina, she began having problems with another Laboratory Technician, Leah Baruch, ” who is white. ECF No. 4. Findlator alleges that Baruch was regularly disrespectful, that their interactions were “often heated and aggravating, ” and that Baruch had a history of interpersonal conflict with others. Id. Findlator raised this issue with her supervisors on multiple occasions.

         On December 2, 2016, Findlator and Baruch were both working in the lab when Baruch asked Findlator about the status of a blood sample. The question triggered a heated exchange. Baruch then exited the lab for a patient care area occupied by both patients and Allina staff. Findlator followed Baruch and they continued to argue in front of others. Baruch took off her lab coat and threw it at Findlator. Baruch then picked up the coat and threw it again. The coat never hit Findlator. The two came face-to-face while arguing and Findlator pushed Baruch.[1] Other Allina employees then interceded to separate the two and escort them to different areas of the clinic.

         Over the next few days, human resources investigated the incident and interviewed six employees as well as both Findlator and Baruch. On December 6, 2016, human resources released reports on the investigation.

         The report on Baruch found that, “in a moment of anger, ” she “threw [her] lab coat.” ECF No. 22-1 at 3. It described her conduct as “completely inappropriate, ” “unprofessional, ” and “unacceptable.” Id. It concluded that she had violated Allina's Respectful Workplace policy and its Commitment to Care. The report issued her a “final written warning” and suspension. Id.

         The report on Findlator stated: “in a moment of anger, you put both hands on your co-worker['s] chest and pushed her backwards.” Id. at 2. The report explained that “Allina Health has a zero tolerance for violence.” Id. It continued: “when you pushed your coworker that is considered an act of violence and is simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” Id. Indeed, Allina's Violence-Free Workplace policy reads:

No individual may engage in any verbal or physical conduct which causes or threatens to cause harm to persons or property. This includes conduct which has the effect of threatening others, regardless of the intent of the individual.

Id. at 78. The policy warns: “If you violate the Violence-Free Workplace policy, you will be subject to corrective action.” Id.

         Allina's report on Findlator ultimately concluded that she violated the Respectful Workplace policy, the Commitment to Care policy, and the Violence-Free Workplace policy. For her actions, Allina terminated her employment. ECF No. 22-1 at 2.

         Through her union, Findlator filed a grievance to challenge her termination. “She argued that she was terminated because of her race and national origin, ” as allegedly “evidenced by the fact that she and Ms. Baruch violated the Violence-Free Workplace Policy, and therefore, should have received the same discipline.” ECF No. 21 at 6. She also claimed that Baruch “accused her of being in a gang.” Id. Following further review of the incident, Allina determined that race and national origin did not motivate the decision to terminate Findlator. ECF No. 27-8 at 32. To justify the different treatment of the two employees, Allina reasoned: “Allina's position is that the throwing of the lab coat across a desk in the general direction of another employee is not the same level of severity as putting your hands on someone's shoulders and pushing them back.” Id. at 33. Allina denied the grievance. Id.

         The union then pursued this matter in arbitration, the last step of the contractual grievance procedure. ECF No. 27-11 at 3. The arbitrator found that termination was unwarranted and ordered Findlator's reinstatement.[2] ECF No. 22-1 at 56-57. Findlator rejected Allina's subsequent offer of reinstatement. ECF No. 21 at 7.

         Findlator then filed this suit alleging discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. ECF No. 4.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual dispute is material if its resolution will affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The Court will grant summary judgment when the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [the nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. That said, in ...


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