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Tricas v. Pine County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 27, 2019

Tamara Tricas, Plaintiff,
v.
Pine County, Defendant.

          Philip G. Villaume and Jeffrey D. Schiek, Villaume & Schiek, P.A., Counsel for Plaintiff.

          Ann R. Goering and Erin E. Benson, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A., Counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. DAVIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Pine County's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff worked for Defendant Pine County (the “County”) for over 24 years. (Comp. ¶ 4.) In 2003, the County Board appointed her the County Recorder. (Id.) She remained in that position until the County Recorder position was eliminated in December 2016. (Id.) At the time her employment was terminated, Plaintiff was over the age of 40. (Id.)

         In July 2016, Plaintiff requested leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et. seq., in order to take her minor child to the Fraser Academy for treatment for Autism. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff planned to be absent one day per week for this purpose. Plaintiff's FMLA request was approved by Kelly Schroeder, Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, on July 29, 2016. (Schiek Aff. Ex. D.)

         The County asserts that during the 2016 budget process, it faced a budget shortfall for 2017. (Goering Aff., Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 32); Ex. 9; Ex. 10.) The County's Administrator, David Minke, testified that the shortfall existed despite a 6.5% levy increase. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 26).) The County requested a $100, 000 reserve in the General Fund for the 2017 budget for unexpected expenses and cash flow. (Id. Ex. 3 (Ludwig Dep. at 20); Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 24).) While working on the 2017 budget, it was discovered in about September/October 2016 that the County would face a $500, 000 deficit. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 32).) Minke testified that to eliminate this deficit, the Board had to create a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases. (Id.) By November 2016, the Board came close to its target, with a General Fund balance of $94, 205. (Id. Ex. 11, Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 32).) Later that month, Minke received information that health insurance expenses for the Sheriff's deputies were higher than anticipated. (Id. Ex. 12, Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 31-32).) As a result, the County's reserve was almost completely eliminated. (Id. Ex. 12.)

         As a result, Minke requested the department heads to find additional cuts. Minke looked to find $100, 000 through staff cuts. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 33).) He was also looking to make reductions that would not impact service to the public. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 50).) The County had to make its budget decisions by December 8, 2016; the date its statutorily mandated Truth in Taxation meeting was scheduled - a date which could not be changed. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 34) and Minn. Stat. § 275.065, subdiv. 3(c).)

         Schroeder discussed with Minke the option of eliminating the Recorder position held by Plaintiff. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 33).) Schroeder then presented the potential savings associated with eliminating the Recorder position at the County's Personnel Committee meeting held on November 30, 2016. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 340); Ex. 13.) Minke approved the proposal, stating the duties of the Recorder could be assigned to another worker and not decrease services to the public. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 52).) Schroeder did not propose that other positions be eliminated. (Id. Ex. 4 (Schroeder Dep. at 40).)

         The County's Personnel Committee is made of up two County Commissioners, Chafee and Ludwig - who make recommendations to the entire Board. (Id. Ex. 4 (Schroeder Dep. at 55).) The Personnel Committee agreed with the recommendation to eliminate the Recorder position and the Board ultimately approved the elimination of the position at its December 7, 2016 meeting. (Id. Ex. 14; Ex. 4 (Schroeder Dep. at 60).) Eliminating the position resulted in a total savings of approximately $90, 000, inclusive of her $63, 000 salary, health insurance, other benefits, FICA and a 7.5% employer contribution to public pension contributions. (Id. Ex. 2 (Minke Dep. at 40-42).)

         Plaintiff was notified on December 7, 2016 by Schroeder and the County's Human Resources Manager, Connie Mikrot, that her job had been eliminated effective December 14, 2016. (Id. Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. at 68); Ex. 4 (Schroeder Dep. at 75); Ex. 15.) The County continued to pay Plaintiff her regular pay through December 30, 2016. (Id. Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. at 68); Ex. 15.) The County did not hire anyone to replace Plaintiff; instead her supervisor, Kelly Schroeder, absorbed all of Plaintiff's duties. (Id. Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. at 41); Ex. 4 (Schroeder Dep. at 11-12); Kylander Aff. at ¶6; Stumne Aff. at ¶ 6; Steward Aff. at ¶ 5; Fallon Aff. at ¶¶ 8-9; Anderson Aff. at ¶ 5; Englund Aff. at ¶ 7; Christensen Aff. at ¶ 7; Benoit Aff. at ¶ 9; Houtsma Aff. at ¶ 10 and Kalb Aff. at ¶ 7).)

         On November 21, 2017, Plaintiff served a state court Summons and Complaint on the County. In the Complaint, Plaintiff has asserted claims of age discrimination in violation of Minn. Stat. § 181.81, reprisal and interference in violation of the FMLA, and invasion of privacy in violation of state law. The County removed the action to this Court, asserting this Court has original jurisdiction over the FMLA claim.

         II. Standard for ...


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