Adam-Mellang v. Apartment Search, Inc.

Decision Date17 September 1996
Docket NumberP,ADAM-MELLAN,No. 95-3764,95-3764
Citation96 F.3d 297
Parties71 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1633 Lindalaintiff-Appellant, v. APARTMENT SEARCH, INC.; William Deters, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Robert T. Weinstine, St. Paul, MN, argued (Darron C. Knutson and Kristin Peterson LeBre, on the brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

Sandra F. Gilbert, Minneapolis, MN, argued (Jessica Lipsky Roe and S. Mark Curwin, on the brief), for defendants-appellees.

Before BOWMAN, LAY and LOKEN, Circuit Judges.

LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a preliminary injunction. Linda Adam-Mellang commenced this action seeking, inter alia, the involuntary dissolution of her employer, Apartment Search, Inc., on the grounds that Apartment Search and its chief executive officer, William Deters, have engaged in on-going sex and age discrimination in violation of federal and Minnesota law. Apartment Search promptly removed Adam-Mellang from its board of directors and placed her on "unpaid administrative leave." Adam-Mellang appeals the district court's 1 denial of a preliminary injunction reversing those actions. Concluding that she has failed to prove irreparable injury, we affirm.


After fifteen years with Apartment Search, Adam-Mellang had risen to the rank of General Manager of its Twin Cities office. She was also a member of the company's Board of Directors and owned 2.7 percent of the outstanding shares of this closely held corporation. In August 1995, she complained to Deters that recent salary and stock option decisions reflected a pattern of unlawful discrimination. When Deters did not respond to this complaint to her satisfaction, she commenced this action.

Three factual aspects of this case frame the preliminary injunction issues. First, Adam-Mellang's Complaint includes a request that Apartment Search be involuntarily dissolved pursuant to Minn.Stat. § 302A.751 because the company's sex and age discrimination have prejudiced Adam-Mellang "in her capacity as a shareholder, director and employee." On September 28, 1995, after the Complaint was filed, Apartment Search's Board of Directors passed a series of resolutions declaring that Adam-Mellang had breached her fiduciary duty to the corporation by seeking its dissolution and now had a conflict of interest with her employer. On October 23, after the district court had denied Adam-Mellang's motion for a preliminary injunction, the Board placed her "on administrative leave with benefits but without compensation." On October 27, the corporation's shareholders removed her from the Board of Directors.

Second, defendants admit that Adam-Mellang was removed from the Board of Directors and placed on unpaid administrative leave because she filed a lawsuit demanding that the company be involuntarily dissolved. If these actions constitute unlawful retaliation under state or federal law--a question the district court considered "close"--retaliation need not be inferred. It has been admitted.

Third, Adam-Mellang's verified Complaint alleged that defendants have also discriminated against the other female member of Apartment Search's Board, Patricia Hovland. In her affidavit in support of a preliminary injunction, Adam-Mellang further alleged that Hovland initially agreed they were both being treated unfairly, but that Hovland now refuses to speak to Adam-Mellang's attorney. Therefore, Adam-Mellang concluded, "I believe that Deters and Apartment Search have subjected Hovland to the same intimidation to which they have subjected me in order to chill and discourage her from being a participant or witness in this case."

In opposing the motion for preliminary injunction, defendants submitted Hovland's lengthy affidavit denying that she has been the victim of sex or age discrimination, denying Adam-Mellang's allegations of specific discriminatory or retaliatory employment actions, and stating that Hovland could not support Adam-Mellang's claims of sex and age discrimination in the Apartment Search workplace. Adam-Mellang's attorneys argue that Hovland's affidavit demonstrates that she has been intimidated by the retaliatory actions taken against Adam-Mellang. However, Adam-Mellang submitted no factual response to the Hovland affidavit, and the district court found this affidavit "credible."

Before denying Adam-Mellang's motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court properly examined the four factors to be weighed in deciding whether to grant or deny a preliminary injunction--"(1) the threat of irreparable harm to the movant; (2) the state of balance between this harm and the injury that granting the injunction will inflict on other parties litigant; (3) the probability that movant will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public interest." Dataphase Systems, Inc. v. C.L. Systems, Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 114 (8th Cir.1981) (en banc). The court concluded that Adam-Mellang has not met her burden of proof on the first three factors and that the public interest "does not weigh heavily either for or against issuance of the preliminary injunction." Because "the failure to show irreparable harm is, by itself, a sufficient ground upon which to deny a preliminary injunction," we only address that issue. Gelco Corp. v. Coniston Partners, 811 F.2d 414, 418 (8th Cir.1987); see Dataphase, 640 F.2d at 114 n. 9.


"The basis of injunctive relief in the federal courts has always been irreparable harm and inadequacy of legal remedies." Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover, 359 U.S. 500, 506-07, 79 S.Ct. 948, 954, 3 L.Ed.2d 988 (1959). Adam-Mellang argues that she proved sufficient threat of irreparable injury because of (1) her placement on unpaid administrative leave, (2) her removal from the Apartment Search Board of Directors, and (3) the chilling effect that defendants' unrestrained retaliation will have on other claimants and witnesses, particularly Patricia Hovland. We examine each of those contentions in turn.

(1) Adam-Mellang's loss of income from being placed on administrative leave is not irreparable injury because she has an adequate remedy at law, namely, the damages and other relief to which she will be entitled if she prevails in this action. When a terminated employee sues for wrongful discharge, her "temporary loss of income, ultimately to be recovered, does not usually constitute irreparable injury." Sampson v. Murray, 415 U.S. 61, 90, 94 S.Ct. 937, 952-53, 39 L.Ed.2d 166 (1974). In Sampson, the Supreme Court acknowledged that a discharged employee might be entitled to a preliminary injunction in a "genuinely extraordinary situation" but stated that a satisfactory showing of loss of income coupled with damage to reputation "falls far short of the type of irreparable injury which is a necessary predicate to the issuance of a temporary injunction in this type of case." Id. at 91-92 & n. 68, 94 S.Ct. at 953 & n. 68. In this case, even assuming that Adam-Mellang's placement on administrative leave is comparable for these purposes to a discharge, she has not shown that this is a "genuinely extraordinary situation" for which she has no adequate remedy at...

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