Linda Welchlin, Appellant, vs. Rose Lake Golf Club, Inc., Respondent.

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Linda Welchlin, Appellant, vs. Rose Lake Golf Club, Inc., Respondent. A06-1348, Court of Appeals Unpublished, August 14, 2007.

This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480 A. 08, subd. 3 (2006).

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A06-1348

 

 

Linda Welchlin,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

Rose Lake Golf Club, Inc.,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed August 14, 2007

Affirmed

Toussaint, Chief Judge

 

Martin County District Court

File No. 46-CV-05-496

 

Mark A. Greenman, Ruth Y. Ostrom, Greenman & Ostrom, 270 Grain Exchange North, 301 Fourth Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)

 

Matthew T. Nielsen, Krahmer & Nielsen, P.A., 204 Lake Avenue, Suite 201, Fairmont, MN 56031 (for respondent)

 

            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Lansing, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

Linda Welchlin appeals from a judgment dismissing her claim of marital-status discrimination.  Following a court trial with an advisory jury, the district court concluded that appellant's marital status was not a direct or indirect motivating factor in respondent Rose Lake Golf Club, Inc.'s decision to discharge her; respondent had met its burden of producing evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for discharging appellant; and appellant had not shown respondent's reasons were a pretext for a discriminatory discharge.  Because the district court did not err in its application of the McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting analysis, we affirm.

D E C I S I O N

In considering a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the district court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and considers "whether the verdict is manifestly against the entire evidence or whether despite the jury's findings of fact the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[1] Langeslag v. KYMN Inc., 664 N.W.2d 860, 864 (Minn. 2003) (quoting Navarre v. S. Washington County Sch., 652 N.W.2d 9, 21 (Minn. 2002)).  This court reviews de novo the district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law.  Id.  This court will affirm the denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law "if, in the record, there is any competent evidence reasonably tending to sustain the verdict."  Pouliot v. Fitzsimmons, 582 N.W.2d 221, 224 (Minn. 1998) (motion for judgment notwithstanding verdict) (quotation omitted). 

An employee is protected from marital-status discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (HMRA), Minn. Stat. §§ 363 A. 01, .02, subd. 1(a), .03, subd. 24, .08, subd. 2 (2006).  See, e.g., Kepler v. Kordel, Inc., 542 N.W.2d 645, 647-48 (Minn. App. 1996) (setting out elements of marital-status discrimination claim), review denied (Minn. Mar. 19, 1996).  Plaintiffs may prove discriminatory intent by direct evidence or by using circumstantial evidence in accordance with the three-part burden-shifting test set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973).  Hoover v. Norwest Private Mortgage Banking, 632 N.W.2d 534, 542 (Minn. 2001).

Appellant argues that discriminatory comments by a club board member constitute marital status discrimination as a matter of law.  Under the direct-evidence test, see Feges v. Perkins Restaurants, Inc., 483 N.W.2d 701, 710 n.4 (Minn. 1992), the court and advisory jury found to the contrary:  the discriminatory comments of the board member were not a motivating factor in the board's decision to discharge appellant.  The court found that the stray comments were not directed at board members and did not affect the board's decision.  See Diez v. Minn. Mining & Mfg., 564 N.W.2d 575, 579 (Minn. App. 1997) (stating that stray remarks cannot serve as direct evidence), review denied (Minn. Aug. 21, 1997).  The findings supported the court's conclusion that appellant's marital status was not direct evidence of discrimination.

As for the three-part McDonnell-Douglas test, appellant must make out a prima facie case of discriminatory intent, and if, successful, the burden of production shifts to the defendant who must produce admissible evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that there was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the discharge.  Hoover, 632 N.W.2d at 545.  Once the employer provides a nondiscriminatory reason for its decision, the burden shifts back to the employee to establish that the proffered reason is a pretext for discrimination.  Id.

The district court concluded that appellant's evidence of discrimination met the first part of the McDonnell-Douglas test, which shifted the burden to respondent to meet the second part of the testshowing nondiscriminatory reasons for appellant's discharge.  The district court determined, based on the testimony of the board members, that respondent met its burden to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for appellant's discharge.  The court also determined that appellant had not shown that the board's reasons were merely pretext for discrimination.  In any event, appellant relies solely on the evidence of a board member's comments to support her claim that she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law; she does not contend that the findings supporting the second and third parts of the analysis were erroneous and she does not provide a transcript for this court to review the basis for those findings.

The record reflects that the court with an advisory jury found that by the greater weight of all of the direct and indirect evidence presented, appellant's divorce was not a motivating factor in the club's decision to terminate appellant.  We observe no error in the trial court's findings or conclusions.

            Affirmed.


[1] Appellant's motions were for judgments as a matter of law under the new rule 50.  After trial begins, rule 50 governs motions for judgment as a matter of law.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 50.01-.02.  Changes in terminology made by the 2006 amendments to the rules were "not intended to change substantive practice relating to these motions." Minn. R. Civ. P. 50 2006 advisory comm. cmt.  Therefore, this court applies the same standard of review as was applied under the old rule.