Kempf v. Hennepin County, No. 20-1308 (8th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff appealed the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment on her claims against the County, her former employer, alleging that it retaliated against her for participating in protected activity in violation of Title VII and the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (MWA).
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Title VII suspension-based claim, concluding that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation. In this case, plaintiff failed to show that she engaged in statutorily protected activity because she did not communicate or report any sexual harassment before her suspension. In regard to the termination-based claim, the court applied the burden-shifting McDonnell Douglas framework and concluded that, assuming plaintiff made a prima facie case, the County articulated several legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for her discharge. Furthermore, plaintiff has not shown that the County's reasons are sufficiently intertwined or fishy that rebutting only some of the reasons discredits them all. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the termination-based claim under Title VII. However, given the relatively novel questions of state law, the court dismissed the MWA claims without prejudice so that they can be taken up by the Minnesota state courts.
Court Description: [Erickson, Author, with Gruender and Kobes, Circuit Judges] Civil case - Employment discrimination. Plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case that her suspension was in retaliation for statutorily protected activity because she failed to communicate or report any sexual harassment prior to her suspension; with respect to her claim she was terminated in retaliation for complaining about her treatment, the investigation preceding her suspension and how the defendant handles gender-based threats, there was no direct evidence of retaliation, and the court would analyze the claims under McDonnell Douglas; assuming plaintiff made a prima facie case, the defendant articulated several legitimate, non-retaliatory grounds for the discharge; plaintiff did not challenge all of the grounds, arguing, instead that the reasons were intertwined and rest on a "fishy" basis; the court determines that plaintiff has not shown the defendant's reasons are sufficiently intertwined or fishy that rebutting only some of them discredits them all; since the employer provided legitimate, non-retaliatory grounds, the district court did not err in granting the employer's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's Title VII termination-based claim; it is not clear under Minnesota law whether plaintiff's claims under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act are barred by the exclusivity provision of the Minnesota Human Rights Act; in light of the uncertainty, the better course of action is to dismiss the MWA claims without prejudice so they can be taken up by the Minnesota state courts.