In Jason Lindner v. Donatelli Bros. of White Bear Lake d/b/a Donatelli’s, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff Lindner’s retaliation claim. In an important opinion of first impression, the court held that Karst v. F.C. Hayer Co, 447 N.W.2d 180 (Minn. 1989), which bars discrimination claims in certain cases, does not apply to retaliation or reprisal claims. The court noted that “a reprisal claim is fundamentally different [than a disability claim] – such a claim is predicated not on an employer’s injury (or disability), but rather on his or her conduct.” Lindner’s claims will now proceed to trial before a federal jury.
Brian Rochel moderated a panel of federal law clerks discussing practice pointers for employment and labor attorneys. The panel, entitled “Federal Law Clerks’ Tips on Trial and Dispositive Motions,” featured Katherine Bruce, law clerk to the Honorable Donovan W. Frank, Mark Betinsky, law clerk to the Honorable Richard J. Kyle, and Elizabeth Welter, law clerk to the Honorable Patrick J. Schiltz. The panel was part of the Federal Bar Association Labor & Employment Section‘s fall seminar. For more information on the seminar, including the federal law clerk panel, click here.
In Jason Lindner v. Donatelli Bros. of White Bear Lake d/b/a Donatelli’s, Brian Rochel and Phillip Kitzer defeated summary judgment in U.S. District Court. Lindner’s claims involved FMLA interference and retaliation as well as for seeking time off from work related to his disability. After 18 years of employment, Jason Lindner was fired while on FMLA leave stemming from a recently-developed respiratory airway disease (RADs). The person who decided to terminate Lindner, Trish Appleby, testified that she relied on video footage to disprove that Lindner fell in the parking lot, justifying her decision to terminate him for falsifying a workers’ compensation claim.
The Court held that summary judgment was not appropriate because there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Donatelli’s proffered reasons for termination were pretext for retaliation. First, Appleby admitted she was skeptical of the injury even though Lindner’s account of the fall was “pretty much the same” to the account he gave her. Second, the Court stated that the video was unclear and could reasonably discredit Appleby’s “adamant testimony” that she could “clearly” tell from the tape that he did not fall. Likewise, Appleby adamantly claimed that Lindner’s doctor’s note did not contain “one objective” indication of injury, yet the doctor’s note did contain indications that Lindner was injured. Third, the Court found that the timing of Appleby’s investigation into the alleged fall could be considered suspicious. Appleby did not take it upon herself to investigate the injury until after Lindner suffered the RADs injury and requested time off from work. Fourth, Appleby testified that Lindner’s previous requests for time off constituted “performance problems” that could have led to his termination. Finally, Appleby did not provide Lindner the same opportunities to remedy alleged behavioral problems that it provided other employees, even those who committed offenses she considered “flagrant.” The Court held, “This evidence of hostility combined with the timing of his termination and the shaky foundation of her professed belief could lead a reasonable jury to discredit Appleby and conclude her decision was in fact motivated by Lindner’s medical leave.”
Likewise, the Court denied Donatelli’s summary judgment motion on Lindner’s FMLA entitlement claim. Although Donatelli’s argued that Lindner “never” made an FMLA request, the Court found that the argument is “clearly contradicted by the record.” Lindner submitted a complete FMLA request for the day before he was terminated, and Donatelli’s was “clearly on notice of his potential need for FMLA leave because Appleby raised the issue with him and sent him FMLA paperwork, which stated he was eligible for leave”. Accordingly, the Court held that Lindner’s FMLA entitlement claim could proceed to jury trial along with his retaliation claim under state and federal law.
The full opinion, issued by U.S. Judge Richard J. Kyle, is available here.