Trainer v. Continental Carbonic Products, Inc.
ORDER denying 14 Partial Motion to Dismiss. (Written Opinion) Signed by Senior Judge David S. Doty on 3/24/2017. (DLO)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civil No. 16-4335(DSD/SER)
Timothy N. Trainer,
Continental Carbonic Products, Inc.,
Matthew J. Schapp, Esq. and Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills
and Bauer, P.A., 14985 Glazier Avenue, Suite 525, Apple
Valley, MN 55124, counsel for plaintiff.
Alyssa M. Toft, Esq. and Jackson Lewis P.C., 150 South Fifth
Street, Suite 3500, Minneapolis, MN 55402, counsel for
This matter is before the court upon the partial motion to
dismiss by defendant Continental Carbonic Products, Inc (CCPI).
Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and
for the following reasons, the court denies the motion.
This discrimination dispute arises out of CCPI’s decision to
fire plaintiff Timothy N. Trainer, a white male whose wife is
African-American and whose children are biracial. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 910.
In August 2013, CCPI hired Trainer as a full-time driver at
its Burnsville, Minnesota location.
Id. ¶ 8.
When Trainer’s co-
worker, Travis Gilner, learned that Trainer’s wife was AfricanAmerican and his children were biracial, Gilner allegedly began
making racially derogatory comments about them.
See id. ¶¶ 13-14.
Trainer alleges that Gilner used offensive terms such as “nigger,”
“tar babies,” and “mud flaps.”
Id. ¶ 14.
Gilner also allegedly
asked Trainer if he “liked his coffee black like his wife or with
cream like his kids” and whether Trainer’s “family had fried
chicken and watermelon five nights a week.”
that Gilner also showed him racist cartoons and told racist jokes.
Id. ¶¶ 14-15.
In September 2014, Gilner became Trainer’s direct supervisor,
Id. ¶¶ 16-17.
In April 2015, Trainer
reported Gilner’s behavior to CCPI human resources, but he claims
that they did not return his calls for approximately a week despite
his repeated follow-up calls.
Id. ¶¶ 20-22.
weeks after Trainer’s initial complaint to human resources, CCPI
terminated Gilner’s employment because of the alleged harassment.
Id. ¶ 24.
After Gilner’s termination, Trainer decided to file a
complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),
and, in October 2015, he requested from CCPI its investigation file
concerning Gilner’s alleged harassment.
CCPI denied his request.
Id. ¶ 27.
Id. ¶ 26.
Approximately three weeks
later, CCPI terminated Trainer allegedly because he wanted to file
an EEOC complaint against the company.
Id. ¶¶ 28, 42-43.
On November 21, 2016, Trainer filed suit against CCPI in state
district court, and CCPI timely removed.
See ECF No. 1.
filed an amended suit on December 30, 2016, asserting claims of
hostile work environment under the Minnesota Human Rights Act
(MHRA) and wrongful termination.1
CCPI now moves to dismiss the
hostile work environment claim.
Standard of Review
In order to survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Braden v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations and
plausibility when the plaintiff [has pleaded] factual content that
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).
Although a complaint need not contain
detailed factual allegations, it must raise a right of relief above
In the amended complaint, Trainer labels count one as “race
discrimination by association - familial status - hostile work
environment.” In his response and the hearing, Trainer represented
that count one only consisted of a hostile work environment claim
and not a race discrimination claim. Therefore, the court will
treat the complaint as having asserted only hostile work
environment and wrongful termination claims.
the speculative level.
See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action” are not sufficient to state a claim.
U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Failure to State a Claim
Because of the substantial similarity between the MHRA and
Title VII, Minnesota courts “have frequently applied principles
which have evolved in the adjudication of claims under the federal
Anderson v. Hunter, Keith, Marshall & Co., 417 N.W.2d
619, 623 (Minn. 1988); see also Rothmeier v. Inv. Advisers, Inc.,
85 F.3d 1328, 1338 (8th Cir. 1996) (“The Minnesota Supreme Court
has held time and again that MHRA claims are to be construed in
accordance with federal precedent.”).
When a hostile work environment claim is based on the actions
of a supervisor, a plaintiff must show: “(1) that [he] belongs to
a protected group; (2) [he] was subject to unwelcome harassment;
plaintiff’s protected group status; and (4) the harassment affected
a term, condition or privilege of [his] employment.”
Shafer Contracting Co., Inc., 469 F.3d 1191, 1195-96 (8th Cir.
When a hostile work environment claim is based on the acts
of a non-supervisor, a plaintiff “must show that his employer knew
or should have known of the harassment and failed to take proper
Id. at 1195; see also Frieler v. Carlson Mktg Grp., 751
N.W.2d 558, 571 n.11 (Minn. 2008).
CCPI first argues that Trainer has failed to allege facts
privilege of his employment.
In deciding whether a plaintiff has
demonstrated that the harassment affected a term, condition or
privilege of employment, the court looks at all the circumstances,
severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or
a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes
with an employee’s work performance.” Woodland v. Joseph T. Ryerson
& Son, Inc., 302 F.3d 839, 843 (8th Cir. 2002).
A plaintiff “must
pervasive to create a work environment that [is] both objectively
and subjectively hostile.” Reedy v. Quebecor Printing Eagle, Inc.,
333 F.3d 906, 908 (8th Cir. 2003).
“A hostile work environment
exists when the workplace is dominated by racial slurs, but not
Bainbridge v. Loffredo Gardens, Inc., 378
F.3d 756, 759 (8th Cir. 2004) (citation and internal quotation
Minneapolis, 459 F.3d 903, 911 (8th Cir. 2006) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted) (“[I]f [racial] comments are
sporadic or casual, they are unlikely to establish a hostile work
Trainer’s allegations do not amount to isolated or sporadic
incidents of racism.
Indeed, Gilner allegedly used racial slurs
and stereotypes on a daily basis over the course of two years.
Further, many of Gilner’s comments, such as the use of the terms
“mud flaps” and “tar babies” reduced Trainer’s family to the status
of objects and add to the severity of the conduct.
See Green, 459
F.3d at 911 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted) (“To
suggest that a human being’s appearance is essentially a caricature
of a jungle beast goes far beyond the mere unflattering; it is
degrading and humiliating in the extreme.
The use of the term
“monkey” and other similar words have been part of actionable
racial harassment claims across the country.”).
If true, these
instances of using racially insensitive terms over three months
were sufficient); Reedy, 333 F.3d at 908 (holding that five
instances were sufficient).
CCPI next argues that Trainer has not sufficiently pleaded
that CCPI knew or should have known about the alleged conduct and
failed to take prompt remedial action.
As stated above, because
some of the alleged conduct occurred while Gilner was Trainer’s
supervisor, Trainer need not show that CCPI knew or should have
Indeed, other than characterizing the allegations
conclusory, CCPI provides no argument to the contrary.
sufficiently pleaded facts giving rise to a plausible hostile work
Accordingly, based on the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that
defendant’s partial motion to dismiss [ECF No. 14] is denied.
Dated: March 24, 2017
s/David S. Doty
David S. Doty, Judge
United States District Court
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