Submitted: October 17, 2018
from United States District Court for the District of
Minnesota - Minneapolis
WOLLMAN, COLLOTON, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.
COLLOTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Harrell brought this action against her former employer,
Handi Medical Supply, Inc., alleging violations of the
Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) and the Family Medical and
Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment in
favor of Handi on all claims. Harrell appeals the dismissal
of only two claims under the MHRA. Without deciding whether
the district court's rationale was correct, we conclude
that the judgment should be affirmed on alternative grounds.
case was resolved on summary judgment, we recite the facts in
the light most favorable to Harrell. Handi Medical is a
medical equipment company located in St. Paul, Minnesota. The
company employed Harrell as a Lead Customer Service
Representative from 2012 until 2015. In 2013, the company
approved Harrell for intermittent leave under the FMLA, and
she used the leave to support her husband, who suffers from
severe bipolar disorder.
August 5, 2015, Handi Medical's management called a
meeting to announce temporary changes to its customer service
department. The changes required Harrell to accept a demotion
in stature by assuming responsibilities of a customer service
left the meeting and returned to her desk. She sent an e-mail
to her husband that said, "I really need to talk to you,
I am upset." She then called her husband; he became
angry and threatened to come to the company's offices to
talk to the chief executive officer about the changes.
became worried about her husband and asked to take FMLA leave
for the afternoon. Human resources director Julie Peterson
approved the request. Harrell then returned to her desk,
swung her identification badge around her hand, and threw the
badge in her purse. Co-workers reported that as Harrell
prepared to leave, she said she "has had it with this
place" and cursed loudly within earshot of customers.
When a co-worker asked Harrell a work-related question,
Harrell responded, "You are going to need to talk to
[another manager]. I am done. I got to go. I am done right
now." She then departed.
co-workers reported her conduct to human resources director
Peterson and the company's chief operating officer, Scott
Learned. Learned interviewed two more employees about the
incident, and then reported it to chief executive officer
Mike Bailey. In response, Bailey prepared a written warning
for Harrell, saying that the reported behavior would not be
tolerated, and that failure to observe workplace rules would
result in further discipline, including termination.
August 11, Bailey summoned Harrell to meet with him and
Learned, and Bailey issued the written warning. He explained
that he was taking the action in response to her conduct on
August 5, and admonished her that it was unacceptable to
curse and complain in front of customers and other employees.
Harrell disputed that she used profanity and refused to sign
the document acknowledging the discussion. She explained that
she left the office frantically on August 5 because she was
worried about her husband. Bailey responded that it always
seemed like she had an excuse. Harrell then accused Bailey of
using her husband's disability against her. Bailey asked
Harrell why she would tell her husband about the
organizational changes if she knew that the information would
point, Peterson and another manager joined the meeting.
Bailey allegedly "got red-faced," moved his chair
toward Harrell, pointed at her, and asked whether she was
accusing him of using her husband's disability against
her. Harrell responded that she felt that way because Bailey
was accusing her of acting unprofessionally after going home
due to FMLA leave. Bailey then told her never to accuse him
of discriminating against her because of her husband's
more discussion, Bailey decided that if Harrell "truly
felt that way that she was describing that she would be
better off working elsewhere." According to Harrell,
company officials observed that she and her family were
unhappy, and said that "maybe we should-can find an exit
strategy when Scott [Learned] returns." As Harrell left
the meeting, she muttered Handi's motto-"enriching
lives"-in a disparaging way. Upon hearing that ...