United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Douglas C. Olinger, Plaintiff,
Renville County Hospital & Clinics; and Nathan Blad, individually and in his capacity as CEO of Renville County Hospital & Clinics, Defendants.
C. Yira, Yira Law Office, Ltd, Hutchinson, MN; and Julie W.
Hanjani, Law Office of Julie Wacker Hanjani, Hutchinson, MN
for Plaintiff Douglas C. Olinger.
Patrick J. Larkin and Michael T. Burke, Lind Jensen Sullivan
& Peterson, PA, Minneapolis, MN for Defendants Renville
County Hospital & Clinics and Nathan Blad.
OPINION AND ORDER
C. Tostrud United States District Judge
Douglas Olinger alleges that Defendants Renville County
Hospital & Clinics and its CEO, Nathan Blad, violated the
Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) by
downgrading the duties of his position after he returned from
an FMLA leave and by later terminating his employment for
exercising his right to FMLA leave. Olinger also alleges that
these same adverse actions violated Minnesota's
Whistleblower Act because they occurred in retaliation for
his exercise of reporting rights protected under the Act.
Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of
Olinger's claims, and that motion will be granted.
Olinger's FMLA entitlement claim based on the alleged
downgrading of his position fails because, as a matter of
law, the duties of his position when he returned from FMLA
leave were not sufficiently different from the duties of the
position before his leave. Even if there were a legally
sufficient difference, Defendants have shown that the changes
to Olinger's duties would have occurred regardless of his
FMLA leave. Olinger's FMLA discrimination claim based on
his termination does not survive because Olinger has not
identified evidence from which a juror reasonably could infer
a causal connection between his exercise of FMLA rights and
his termination. Olinger's claim under Minnesota's
Whistleblower Act fails because he did not report a violation
of the law-i.e., he never blew the whistle-as the
began working for Renville County Hospital & Clinics (the
“Hospital”) in November 2000. Burke Decl., Ex. 1
(“Olinger Dep.”) at 19 [ECF No. 38-1]; Compl.
¶ 9 [ECF No. 1]. He was employed initially as a
maintenance engineer. Olinger Dep. at 31. From the day he
started until about October 2007, Olinger reported to the
Hospital's maintenance director, David Lofgren.
Id. at 31-33. Lofgren retired at that time, and
Olinger applied unsuccessfully for the director of
maintenance position. Id. at 32-33. Olinger
continued working as a maintenance engineer for several
years, and in April 2014-with encouragement from the
Hospital-Olinger accepted the position of housekeeping and
laundry supervisor. Id. at 33-34. As the
housekeeping and laundry supervisor, Olinger oversaw the
staff of the housekeeping and laundry departments and
reported to the Hospital's CFO. Burke Decl., Ex. 2
(“Position Description”) at 1. Olinger's
duties in this position included supervising staff and
performing housekeeping work. See generally Id. at
1-2. Olinger spent about fifty percent of his time on
“office” or supervisory work and about fifty
percent on the “floor” personally performing
housekeeping duties. Olinger Dep. at 46-47.
requested and was granted FMLA leave on multiple occasions
during his employment with the Hospital. In May 2014, shortly
after beginning work as the housekeeping and laundry
supervisor, Olinger requested and was granted FMLA leave to
care for his son in connection with a surgery. Id.
at 38. Olinger returned from this leave the following month,
in June. Id. Olinger requested and was granted a
second FMLA leave to care for his son beginning August 21,
2014. Id. at 39. He returned from this leave in
mid-September. Id. at 39-40. At some point during
October through December 2014, Olinger took a third FMLA
leave to care for his son. Id. at 41-42. Olinger
identifies no complaints with any of these three FMLA leaves.
He acknowledges that these leave requests were approved with
no issues and that he encountered no problems on his return
to work from any of these leaves. Id. at 38-42.
twice applied for open maintenance engineer positions during
2015, but he was not successful on either occasion. In May
2015, Olinger applied and interviewed for the position, but
another individual named Bruce Jacques was hired.
Id. at 49-50; 73. Jacques subsequently was promoted
to environmental services director. Id. at 73-74.
His promotion created the second open maintenance engineer
position for which Olinger applied; Olinger was scheduled to
be interviewed for the position in September 2015.
Id. at 74-75. Concerns with the Hospital's
hiring process for these positions prompted Olinger to
contact then-Renville County Administrator Sara Folstad prior
to this interview. Id. at 77-91. Olinger asked
Folstad what could be done “about the hiring process
about - - if they were going to hire - - if they didn't
hire the most qualified person.” Id. at 86.
Folstad told Olinger that he should follow the Hospital's
grievance policy. Id. Olinger asked what he could do
if he didn't “feel comfortable or if at this time
I'm not sure if that's capable of going through that
chain, ” and Folstad repeated that Olinger should
follow the Hospital's grievance policy. Id.
Olinger asked Folstad to keep their conversation confidential
and said “if [he] thought something changed or it
didn't look like it was above board, [he] would then
follow up with her.” Id. Olinger “never
did have to call back and talk to her after that.”
Id. Olinger subsequently was interviewed for the
open maintenance engineer position, but another individual
was hired. Id. at 74-75.
requested and was granted a fourth FMLA leave from September
29, 2015 until mid-February 2016 to undergo treatment for a
neck condition. Id. at 51-54. Two events following
Olinger's return from this leave form the basis for his
FMLA claims in this case. First, Olinger says that after he
returned from this leave the duties of his position shifted
away from being supervisory and that he “just became a
floor worker.” Id. at 54. Second,
Olinger's employment was terminated on April 4, 2016.
Burke Decl., Ex. 8. In a letter, the Hospital explained that
Olinger was “being laid off from [his] position as
Housekeeping Manager effective immediately.”
Id., Ex. 7. The letter cited efficiencies gained
from the Hospital's construction of and move to a
“new building and anticipated future cuts in
reimbursements” as justifications for the layoff and
described that the layoff was “indefinite in duration
and should be considered permanent.” Id.
judgment is warranted “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 dispute over a fact is
“material” only if its resolution might affect
the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A dispute over a fact is “genuine” only
if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.
“The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and
all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his
favor.” Id. at 255.
alleges that Defendants engaged in acts prohibited by the
FMLA, and 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a) provides ...