Submitted: October 18, 2018
from United States District Court for the District of
Minnesota - Minneapolis
SMITH, Chief Judge, LOKEN and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.
Walter Engelhardt sued Qwest Corporation, a subsidiary of
CenturyLink, and Tim Buchholz, CenturyLink's operations
director, alleging that CenturyLink and Buchholz terminated
him in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and
the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (MWA). He also sued for
tortious interference with a prospective business
relationship. Engelhardt claimed that CenturyLink and
Buchholz terminated him in retaliation for legal action he
had taken against the company. CenturyLink and Buchholz
averred that they terminated Engelhardt for low productivity.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the
defendants and dismissed the MWA claim for lack of standing.
On appeal, Engelhardt argues that the district court erred in
granting summary judgment because genuine issues of material
fact remain as to CenturyLink and Buchholz's motives for
terminating him; he also claims the district court erred in
finding he lacked standing under the MWA. We disagree and
affirm the district court's judgment.
began working for CenturyLink as a St. Paul-based technician
in 2000. In 2007, he joined a class action lawsuit ("the
Brennan lawsuit") of over 300 employees against
the company. The suit settled, and Engelhardt received a
payment. Then, in 2008, CenturyLink terminated Engelhardt for
2011, Engelhardt applied for work through MP Nextlevel (MP).
MP supplies contractors to telecommunications companies,
including CenturyLink. MP initially placed Engelhardt with a
company in Big Lake, Minnesota, but Engelhardt requested a
transfer to CenturyLink in St. Paul. While the transfer was
pending, Engelhardt's former CenturyLink supervisor Chris
Fry noticed Engelhardt's request. Fry then notified his
superior, Tim Buchholz, of Engelhardt's impending return.
Fry expressed confusion about how a terminated employee could
return to the company as a contractor.
days after Engelhardt's assignment to CenturyLink through
MP, Buchholz released Engelhardt. Buchholz terminated
Engelhardt after seeing his name on the company's
"Do Not Rehire" list. This list contained names of
employees who had been fired for workplace violations,
including productivity and performance issues. CenturyLink
placed former employees' names on the list if they were
fired for a qualifying reason. These employees would be
marked as "not rehirable" in the CenturyLink
system. Fry testified he believed Engelhardt had been marked
as "not rehirable" after his termination because of
month after being released, Engelhardt contacted Buchholz and
threatened to sue CenturyLink for retaliation. Engelhardt
believed he was being punished for his participation in the
Brennan lawsuit. Buchholz and Engelhardt
communicated over the course of several weeks. After
investigating the matter, Buchholz informed Engelhardt on a
Friday that he had been cleared to return to work as a
contractor. The following Monday, an MP employee accidentally
sent an e-mail to Engelhardt claiming that "[a
CenturyLink employee] told me on Friday that he or anyone
else at Century Link will have no contact with Walt."
Decl. of Charles A. Delbridge, Ex. 16, at 135, Engelhardt
v. Qwest, No. 0:15-cv-04591-ADM-SER (D. Minn. Feb. 16,
2017), ECF No. 27-1. Two days later, however, that same
employee reassured Engelhardt that he had indeed been cleared
to return as a contractor. Because of the approaching
seasonal slow down, Engelhardt did not ever actually report
to CenturyLink. The company laid off all its contractors for
the winter shortly after Buchholz cleared Engelhardt to
next year, in 2012, Engelhardt moved to North Dakota and did
not reapply to work as a CenturyLink contractor. In 2015,
however, a friend of Engelhardt's informed him that
CenturyLink was hiring technicians and suggested he apply.
Skeptical, Engelhardt contacted former associates at
CenturyLink and MP. In response to Engelhardt's
inquiries, Fry told Engelhardt's former union steward
that Engelhardt was welcome to come back. MP supervisor Tedd
Elliot personally assured Engelhardt there was nothing in his
employment file that should impede his return. A CenturyLink
manager reporting to Buchholz also told Elliot there was no
reason Engelhardt should not be able to return.
summer, MP rehired Engelhardt, and he was assigned to work as
a CenturyLink contractor. In mid-August, however, a little
over a week into the job, Brian Burth contacted Fry asserting
Engelhardt's productivity was low. Burth had been hired
by CenturyLink in June 2015 and was in charge of monitoring
contractor performance. Burth averred that he had not been
aware of Engelhardt's prior relationship with the company
when he contacted Fry about Engelhardt's issues.
e-mail to Fry listed the number of jobs Engelhardt had
completed each day. Burth considered this number
unsatisfactory and suggested terminating Engelhardt. The list
revealed that Engelhardt was completing about three jobs per
day. Burth stated that he expected technicians to complete
five to six jobs per day.
forwarded Burth's e-mail to CenturyLink's contractor
liaison, Rennell Schank, and copied his supervisor, Buchholz.
Fry explained that Engelhardt's production levels were
low, that he was allegedly calling CenturyLink employees for
assistance, and that he was "returning work to himself
for future dates, and working at a pace that needs to be
addressed." Decl. of Charles A. Delbridge, Ex. 17, at
137, Engelhardt v. Qwest, No. 0:15-cv-04591-ADM-SER
(D. Minn. Feb. 16, 2017), ECF No. 27-1. At his deposition,
Burth stated that calling CenturyLink employees ...