263 N.W.2d 395 (Minn. 1978), 47226, Danz v. Jones

Docket Nº:47226.
Citation:263 N.W.2d 395
Opinion Judge:The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yetka
Party Name:Shirley DANZ, Appellant, v. Mark Z. JONES II, et al., Respondents.
Attorney:W. Dale Weyhrich, Nyquist, Kaisershot & Assoc., Ltd. by Charles W. Rogers, Brooklyn Center, for appellant.
Case Date:February 03, 1978
Court:Supreme Court of Minnesota

Page 395

263 N.W.2d 395 (Minn. 1978)

Shirley DANZ, Appellant,


Mark Z. JONES II, et al., Respondents.

No. 47226.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

February 3, 1978

Page 396

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Syllabus by the Court

1. In a case of alleged sex discrimination, the employee has the burden of proof throughout the proceedings, but a showing that the plaintiff-female employee and a male employee were hired at the same time to perform similar services establishes a prima facie case of sex discrimination where the male counterpart is paid more for the same duties.

2. The employer may rebut plaintiff's prima facie case by offering sufficient admissible evidence of a nondiscriminatory purpose, but the employee then must be given the opportunity to prove such evidence invalid. Extra job duties which require little or no additional effort or which are undertaken for further compensation do not justify an initial wage inequality between a male employee and a female employee performing substantially equal jobs. Relevant differences in training and experience can justify unequal starting salaries for male and female employees where the nature of the duties performed require or utilize the additional skills.

3. The employer must show valid cause for discharge of an employee, and mere intention to resign on the part of an employee by reason of alleged sex discrimination in employment practices does not bar the employee from full recovery.

W. Dale Weyhrich, Nyquist, Kaisershot & Assoc., Ltd. by Charles W. Rogers, Brooklyn Center, for appellant.

Carlsen, Greiner & Law, Peter F. Greiner and Robert D. Lucas, Jr., Minneapolis, for respondents.

Warren Spannaus, Atty. Gen., Richard B. Allyn, Sol. Gen. and Antonio Cortez, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., St. Paul (seeking reversal), amicus curiae, for Dept. of Human Rights.

Heard before ROGOSHESKE, KELLY, and YETKA, JJ., and considered and decided by the court en banc.

YETKA, Justice.

This is an action by plaintiff, Shirley Danz, individually, against Helen Dybsjord and Mark Z. Jones II, and against Mark Z. Jones Associates, Inc. (Associates), alleging sex discrimination in employment practices in violation of Minn.St. 363.03, subd. 1(2)(c). 1 Plaintiff alleged that she had not received equal pay for performing work that was identical to that of a certain male employee of Associates.

At the close of the plaintiff's case, the action against the individual defendants, Dybsjord and Jones, was dismissed. Thereafter, the trial court in its conclusions of law, held that plaintiff had failed to meet her burden of proving that Associates had discriminated against her on the basis of sex and that she was therefore not entitled

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to recover damages. Plaintiff appeals from the judgment. We reverse and remand.

Associates was engaged in the development, construction, and management of numerous apartment complexes in the Twin Cities area. In the spring of 1973, Associates was developing a large apartment complex called Aspen Valley in Burnsville, Minnesota. The complex became available for occupancy in stages starting about September 1, 1973.

Due to its isolated location and competition from other apartment complexes in the area, Associates decided to employ full-time rental agents at Aspen Valley. Earlier in 1973, Associates had hired Dybsjord as executive coordinator to oversee the rentals of Associates' new projects.

In May or June of 1973, Dybsjord negotiated the employment of Robert Drake, then employed by Edina Realty, as a rental agent for Associates' Aspen Valley project. Drake received a salary from Associates in the amount of $75 a week, an apartment of his choice, and a commission of $25 for each apartment rented. Dybsjord had worked with Drake at Edina Realty before she was hired by Associates. Dybsjord also hired plaintiff, who was at that time employed by Associates at another project, as a second rental agent. Her compensation at Aspen Valley was an apartment of her choice and a commission of $25 for each apartment rented. It is unclear whether Dybsjord was as well acquainted with plaintiff's qualifications as she was with Drake's. Between late July 1973 and October 9, 1973, both plaintiff and Drake closed approximately the same number of leases.

Plaintiff first learned of the difference in compensation at a meeting in August or September of 1973. She subsequently demanded that she be paid the same compensation as Drake. The raise was not granted. Plaintiff was initially told that Drake's higher salary was due to his status as a breadwinner.

Sometime prior to October 9, 1973, plaintiff decided to resign and on October 9, 1973, prepared a letter of resignation. Later that same day, after writing but before delivering her resignation letter, plaintiff received notice from Associates that her services as a rental agent were no longer needed. Plaintiff thereafter delivered her letter. Associates contends that plaintiff was terminated because her attitude and enthusiasm toward the job had declined. Associates' management claims it became concerned that her attitude would affect prospective tenants. It also claims she was having problems with her co-workers.

No one was hired to replace plaintiff after she left the employ of defendant, and shortly thereafter Drake was transferred to another apartment complex. Associates then terminated the use of rental agents at Aspen Valley and began using resident management personnel and caretakers to meet with prospective tenants.

The issues raised by this appeal are:

(1) What is the proper allocation of the burden of proof in a wage discrimination case under Minn.St. c. 363?

(2) Did Associates present sufficient, proper, relevant, and admissible evidence to rebut plaintiff's prima facie case of discrimination?

(3) Did Associates show a permissible justification for terminating plaintiff's employment?

1. Allocation of the Burden of Proof. Plaintiff's first contention is that the trial court erred in its allocation of the burden of proof in this case. Plaintiff argues that once she has established that the employer paid workers of one sex more than workers of the opposite sex for substantially equal work, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to establish that the differential is based on factors other than sex. The trial court held that the plaintiff had the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Associates had discriminated against her in violation of c. 363.

Chapter 363 appears to be modeled after Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e, et seq. See, 51 Minn.L.Rev. 877; 52 Minn.L.Rev. 231. The language of 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e, is remarkably

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similar to that of Minn.St. c. 363. This court has applied principles developed in court decisions under Title VII for purposes of construing c. 363. Brotherhood of Ry. & Steamship Clerks, etc. v. State, 303 Minn. 178, 188, 229 N.W.2d 3, 9 (1975); see, also, Zimdars v. Special School District No. 1, 304 Minn. 288, 230 N.W.2d 465 (1975). In the context of claims of sex-based unequal compensation brought under Title VII, the Federal courts have applied the standards expressed in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C.A. § 206 in determining whether or not sex discrimination exists. Because the two statutes serve the same basic purpose with respect to prohibiting discrimination in compensation on the basis of sex, the Federal courts have reasoned that the sex discrimination prohibitions contained in Title VII must be construed in pari materia with the Equal Pay Act. Orr v. Frank R. MacNeill & Son, Inc., 511 F.2d 166, 170 (5 Cir.), certiorari denied, 423 U.S. 865, 96 S.Ct. 125, 46 L.Ed.2d 94 (1975); Schultz v. Wheaton Glass Co., 421 F.2d 259, 266 (3 Cir.), certiorari denied, 398 U.S. 905, 90 S.Ct. 1696, 26 L.Ed.2d 64 (1970).

The leading Title VII case on this problem is McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). There the United States Supreme Court stated:

"The complainant in a Title VII trial must carry the initial burden under the statute of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination. This may be done by showing (i) that he belongs to a racial minority; (ii) that he applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; (iii) that, despite his qualifications, he was rejected; and (iv) that, after his rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from persons of complainant's qualifications. * * *

"The burden then must shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection." 411 U.S. 802, 93 S.Ct. 1824, 36 L.Ed.2d 677.

If the employer succeeds in asserting a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason as justification for his actions, the complaining employee must then be afforded a fair opportunity to show that the employer's stated reasons for his actions were in fact pretextual.

" * * * (R)espondent must be given a full and fair opportunity to demonstrate by competent evidence that the presumptively valid reasons for his rejection were in fact a coverup for a racially discriminatory decision." 411 U.S. 805, 93 S.Ct. 1826, 36 L.Ed.2d 680.

Thus, upon a prima facie showing by the plaintiff, there is a shift, but not in the ultimate burden of proof. Only the burden of going forward with the evidence shifts to the defendant. By the great weight of authority, once the defendant comes forward with sufficient, relevant, and proper rebuttal evidence, the plaintiff must then bear the ultimate burden of persuasion by a preponderance of the evidence. Causey v. Ford Motor Co., 516 F.2d 416 (5 Cir. 1975); Bittar v. Air Canada, 512 F.2d 582 (5 Cir. 1975); Richard v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 395 F.Supp. 1363 (E.D.Mo.1975); Meier v. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp., 416 F.Supp. 748 (S.D.Ind.1975). This shift in the burden...

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