Finch v. Abbott Nw. Hosp., A20-0494

CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtFrisch, Judge
PartiesDr. Kimberly Finch, Appellant, v. Abbott Northwestern Hospital, et al., Respondents.
Docket NumberA20-0494
Decision Date19 January 2021

Dr. Kimberly Finch, Appellant,
Abbott Northwestern Hospital, et al., Respondents.



January 19, 2021

This opinion is nonprecedential except as provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. 1(c).

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Frisch, Judge

Hennepin County District Court
File No. 27-CV-18-3271

Christopher W. Madel, Ellen M. Ahrens, Matthew J.M. Pelikan, Madel PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

Melissa Raphan, John T. Sullivan, Briana Al Taqatqa, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondents)

Considered and decided by Frisch, Presiding Judge; Hooten, Judge; and Smith, Tracy M., Judge.



Appellant argues that the district court erred by dismissing her sex-discrimination and negligence claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and by dismissing her reprisal claim on summary judgment. We affirm the dismissal of the sex-

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discrimination and negligence claims, but we reverse the dismissal of the reprisal claim and remand for trial.


Appellant Dr. Kimberly Finch sued respondents Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Allina Health System (collectively, Allina), alleging negligence and two violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA): sex discrimination in violation of Minn. Stat. § 363A.08, subd. 2(3) (2018), and reprisal in violation of Minn. Stat. § 363A.15 (2018). The district court dismissed the sex-discrimination and negligence counts for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, see Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e), and it later dismissed the reprisal claim on Allina's motion for summary judgment, see Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.01.

Rule 12.02(e) Proceedings and Order for Dismissal

We begin by summarizing the allegations set forth in Dr. Finch's complaint, which we accept as true for the purpose of reviewing the dismissal of the sex-discrimination and negligence claims. See Wiegand v. Walser Auto. Grps., Inc., 683 N.W.2d 807, 811 (Minn. 2004).

In the spring of 2015, Dr. Finch began working at Abbott in its mental-health-services program. Allina paid Dr. Finch through its guaranteed-compensation plan, and she received a fixed rate of compensation regardless of her client-service hours. Allina commonly pays providers for one year using the guaranteed-compensation plan and then transitions providers to a productivity-based compensation plan.

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Allina required Dr. Finch to work with Dr. Jeffrey Gottlieb to develop a mental-health-services training program. Dr. Gottlieb allegedly engaged in "highly sexualized conversations and tended to turn any conversation into sexual banter." In September 2015, Meagan Abel began a practicum placement with Abbott as part of her doctorate program.1 Dr. Gottlieb supervised Abel. Dr. Gottlieb allegedly fostered an environment rife with sexually inappropriate conversations, inappropriate racial remarks, and domineering shows of authority. Abel raised concerns about Dr. Gottlieb's behavior with Dr. Finch and Dr. Finch's supervisor, clinical director Dr. Michael Schmitz. By November 2015, Abel reported more specific instances of Dr. Gottlieb's misconduct to Dr. Finch, and Dr. Finch passed that information to Dr. Schmitz. After Dr. Finch reported additional misconduct, Allina investigated Dr. Gottlieb, removed him from his training role, and ordered him to have no further contact with students.

On January 26, 2016, Dr. Finch filed a formal complaint regarding Dr. Gottlieb's misconduct with the Minnesota Board of Psychology. One of Dr. Gottlieb's colleagues, Dr. Rebecca Cook, allegedly told Dr. Finch, "[E]veryone will hate you for this. You will be sorry that you ever came to work here." Dr. Finch reported this statement to Dr. Schmitz, who in turn told Dr. Finch to stop putting reports in writing and instead to report misconduct directly to him. Thereafter, Dr. Finch became concerned Allina was not addressing her reported concerns, so she sought a meeting in early June 2016 with Allina's

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vice president, Dr. Paul Goering, and Hilary Carruthers, another Allina executive. When Dr. Finch met with Dr. Goering and Carruthers, Dr. Finch described a harassing, discriminatory, and hostile work environment.

On June 17, 2016, Dr. Gottlieb resigned. Dr. Finch, however, continued to face workplace challenges. Dr. Cook allegedly told Dr. Finch that others perceived her as a snitch and did not trust her. Dr. Schmitz allegedly told Dr. Finch that she could apply for the then-open training-director position but that there was "no chance" she would get the position. In August 2016, Dr. Schmitz left Allina.

Dr. Finch claimed that she continued to face what she believed to be workplace hostility and intimidation and that Allina took no corrective action. After more than a year of raising concerns with her supervisors and seeing no improvements, on January 24, 2017, Dr. Finch gave notice of her resignation from Abbott, effective March 28, 2017. She secured a different position with Allina at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute (CKRI).

On July 14, 2017, Dr. Finch filed a charge with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) alleging workplace harassment, discrimination, and hostility. In December 2017, Dr. Finch learned that someone from Allina had warned CKRI staff that Dr. Finch was a "troublemaker." And in January 2018, Dr. Finch learned that Carruthers had contacted CKRI management to disparage Dr. Finch. In February 2018, Dr. Finch filed her complaint in district court.

Allina moved to dismiss the entire complaint, arguing that Dr. Finch failed to state claims upon which relief could be granted. The district court granted the motion in part,

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dismissing the sex-discrimination claim because Dr. Finch failed to allege sex discrimination occurring within the statutory limitations period and dismissing the negligence claim as preempted by the MHRA. See Minn. Stat. § 363A.04 (2018). The district court denied the motion to dismiss as to the reprisal claim.

Summary-Judgment Proceedings and Judgment of Dismissal

Following the completion of discovery on the reprisal claim, Allina moved for summary judgment, arguing that Dr. Finch could not establish a prima facie reprisal claim and that Abbott should be dismissed as a party because it was merely an assumed name of Allina. We summarize the summary-judgment record relevant to the issues on appeal.

Dr. Finch joined Abbott with the intention of working solely as a clinician, but she eventually undertook training duties in Abbott's mental-health-services program. Consistent with its common practice, Allina placed Dr. Finch on guaranteed compensation for her first year.2 Early during her employment, Dr. Finch requested information regarding how she could increase her income.

On or about December 16, 2015, Abel told Dr. Finch about Dr. Gottlieb's misconduct. On December 17, Dr. Finch reported Abel's allegations to Dr. Schmitz via

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email. Dr. Schmitz and human resources investigated and, on December 23, Dr. Schmitz relieved Dr. Gottlieb of supervisory responsibilities.

At Dr. Schmitz's request, Dr. Finch agreed to serve as the interim training director. In January 2016, Dr. Schmitz recommended that the duration of Dr. Finch's guaranteed compensation be extended from March 2016 through March 2017 because she undertook more administrative duties and reduced her clinical duties. Allina's compensation committee reported the approval of the recommendation specifically "to allow Dr. Finch to serve as interim director of the student-training program and to reflect the fact that she needed to commit additional time to supervising students (versus seeing patients)."

Dr. Finch testified that, after filing her complaint regarding Dr. Gottlieb with the Minnesota Board of Psychology, she faced severe, negative reactions at Abbott:

[Dr.] Cook would come in my office and say that I was a terrible person, that I should never have reported Gottlieb . . . [that] I just needed to shut the f-ck up and leave it alone, that I needed to not complain about anything and not be unwilling to be on the training committee because . . . Allina owns you.

And so the first year or when you're on guarantee, you need to bend over and take it up the a-s and not complain about anything. And she would call me wicked and unsafe. She would say I would regret that I had ever come to work there, that she would make sure that I was suffering, that I did not get referrals and that no one liked me.

Dr. Finch claimed that she told Dr. Schmitz about Dr. Cook's behavior but that Dr. Schmitz failed to intervene. Dr. Finch also testified that the patient scheduler began diverting new patients away from Dr. Finch.

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Dr. Finch claims that, throughout spring 2016, she continued to report information about "discrimination, harassment, and retaliation." On June 9, 2016, Dr. Finch emailed Dr. Schmitz and informed him that Dr. Gottlieb had a closed-door meeting with a student. Dr. Schmitz and human resources met with Dr. Gottlieb the next day. Dr. Gottlieb then submitted a 60-day notice of resignation, but Allina did not have him work the remainder of the notice period.

On June 13, 2016, Dr. Finch sought a meeting with Dr. Goering, Carruthers, and another manager to discuss, in part, "the current status of the students, myself, Dr. Schmitz, Dr. Gottlieb and the pending Board of Psychology Complaints." She informed Dr. Goering and Carruthers, "I would like to provide you with a full and accurate timeline of events and discuss significant concerns I have related to the management of this situation."

On June 15, 2016, Dr. Goering and Carruthers met with Dr. Finch. Dr. Finch provided a written agenda noting "Areas of Concern" which, under a heading labeled "Isolating Messages around Communication/Fear of Retaliation," included the following:

- Interested in containment of information
- Actively discouraged communicating concerns

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