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Kempf v. Hennepin County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 14, 2020

Anita M. Kempf, Plaintiff,
Hennepin County, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Hennepin County's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 16.) For the reasons addressed below, the Court grants summary judgment for Hennepin County on all of the remaining counts of Plaintiff Anita M. Kempf's complaint.


         Kempf was an architect at Hennepin County from 1997 to 2016. During her employment at Hennepin County, Kempf's performance reviews indicated that she met or exceeded expectations in nearly all aspects of her work. Kempf was a Senior Project Architect in 2016.

         On March 9, 2016, Jay Biedny, Kempf's Division Manager, went to Kempf's office to discuss a project referred to as the Seward Office Renovation. According to Kempf, Biedny was speaking “in a loud and hostile voice” from the beginning. At her deposition, Kempf describes the incident as follows:

I was looking at my calendar back in the corner. He was right up to the back of my chair, and I didn't know that at the time, he said, “stop, stop emailing, ” in a very loud voice. I turned my head, his crotch was in my face, I looked up and I screamed in terror.
[. . .]
His approach and his continued entry into my work space and his being-trapping me back in the corner and towering over me and yelling at me was very frightening . . . . He was totally up against the back of my chair, his crotch was within six inches of my face . . . . [I]t felt like an assault was imminent.

         Kempf asked Biedny to leave multiple times and had to shut her door to compose herself.

         According to Biedny, he had sent Kempt an email the day before, asking her about the necessary preparation for the Seward Office Renovation project to commence the following week. Biedny requested Kempf to respond that afternoon. Because he had received no reply from Kempf, Biedny went to her office the following day to discuss the issue raised in his email. Biedny's written report of the incident includes the following account:

I stated that “Jerome [her supervisor] had received calls from the site users and that those users were concerned. They wanted to know if the project was going to proceed or not.” At this she said that “if they want to know, then I will cancel by email right now.” I told her “canceling the project today would not resolve the impasse she has . . . .” At this, her voice changed from shouts to screams.
[. . .]
I then tried to calm her down by stating that her screaming was not helpful. At that point a rage came over her and she order me to stop talking and to leave her office. . . . Then I said “I am sorry that we could not address this important issue in a civil tone.” At that she jumped out of her chair and move[d] toward me yelling “stop talking and get out of my office” waving her hands in my face. At that time, I backed away from her and into the doorway. She then took the door in hand and slammed it shut[, ] forcing me into the hallway.

(First alteration in original.)

         Other employees working nearby reported that they heard Kempf scream, not Biedny. Barbara O'Brien, Deputy Director of Facility Services, who also was on the floor, heard Kempf screaming and heard her slam the door.

         Both Biedny and Kempf reported the incident to O'Brien that same day.[1] O'Brien immediately contacted Eric Slette, the department's Human Resources Business Partner, and launched a formal investigation. Jerome Ryan, Kempf's supervisor, who reported directly to Biedny, led the investigation. Biedny submitted a written statement, and Ryan interviewed Kempf. The evidence suggests that Biedny received updates about the investigation, which Kempf did not receive.

         Following the investigation, Hennepin County concluded that Kempf committed misconduct on March 9, 2016, and issued her a five-day unpaid suspension. The Five Day Suspension notice, dated March 17, 2016, stated that Kempf's conduct on March 9, 2016, violated Hennepin County Human Resources Rule 16.3g, which provides that: “No employee shall conduct himself/herself in any manner which shall reflect negatively on the County.” The notice also cited as justifications for the suspension Kempf's performance deficiencies, her poking O'Brien on March 9, 2016, and an oral reprimand that Kempf received in 2014.

         Kempf, who did not appeal the suspension within the prescribed five working days, served the suspension between ...

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