Karst v. F.C. Hayer Co., Inc., CX-88-1044

Decision Date27 September 1988
Docket NumberNo. CX-88-1044,CX-88-1044
Citation429 N.W.2d 318
PartiesDaniel W. KARST, Appellant, v. F.C. HAYER CO., INC. Respondent.
CourtMinnesota Court of Appeals

Syllabus by the Court

1. The provision of the Workers' Compensation Act providing for exclusive liability for work-related injuries is not a bar to disability discrimination action.

2. Summary judgment was inappropriate where appellant had established sufficient facts to raise genuine issues of fact for a prima facie case of disability discrimination.

Gary T. LaFleur, Randall J. Fuller, Babcock, Locher, Nielson & Mannella, Anoka, for appellant.

Kathleen Hughes, Paul L. Landry, Fredrikson & Byron, Minneapolis, for respondent.

Heard, considered and decided by FOLEY, SHORT and LESLIE *, JJ.

OPINION

DAVID R. LESLIE, Judge.

Daniel Karst appeals from a summary judgment entered in favor of F.C. Hayer Co., Inc., on claims for disability discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(2) (1986), and Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(6) (1986). We reverse and remand.

FACTS

Appellant, Daniel Karst, has been employed as a warehouseman for F.C. Hayer since 1953. He incurred two work-related shoulder injuries in the course of his employment. The first injury, in 1979, resulted in lost time from work and a permanent partial disability rating. He returned to work in 1979 or 1980. Karst's second injury occurred in July 1984, an injury to his left shoulder. He received various workers' compensation benefits for this injury, including medical benefits, rehabilitation benefits, temporary total disability benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and temporary partial disability benefits.

Dr. Haley, Karst's primary treating physician, diagnosed the second injury as a left rotater cuff tendonitis with adhesive capsulitis and impingement syndrome. In Haley's opinion, the injury resulted in a three percent permanent partial disability. Karst was released to work in April 1985, and continues to be released to work with certain medical restrictions. Karst may not use his left arm for lifting above his head or for pushing or pulling heavy objects and he has some limitations in lifting objects with his left arm up to shoulder level.

Following rehabilitation with Carol Mossey, a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant, Karst first requested to be returned to work in the summer of 1985. Hayer denied this request. The company denied later requests by Karst and Mossey indicating that they would not rehire Karst if he had any restrictions. After refusing to attend a rehabilitation meeting with Karst and Mossey, Hayer stated it was company policy to not modify the job nor allow him to change departments as long as he was under any restrictions whatsoever.

Appellant then commenced a disability discrimination action in district court claiming compensatory damages which include loss of past and future earnings, future loss of benefits, mental anguish, and emotional suffering in addition to treble damages, attorney fees and costs, and punitive damages. Following discovery, both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment for Hayer.

The trial court found that Karst's disability discrimination action was barred by the provision of the Workers' Compensation Act providing for exclusive liability for work-related injuries, Minn.Stat. Sec. 176.031. The court also found that Hayer's refusal to hire or assign a person to perform part of Karst's job responsibilities is not discriminatory under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(2), and Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(6). Finally, the court found further that Karst was not a "qualified disabled person," the primary element of proof for a claim of disability discrimination, under Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.01, subd. 25a.

ISSUES

1. Did the trial court err in finding Karst's discrimination action barred by Minn.Stat. Sec. 176.031 (1986)?

2. Did the trial court err in dismissing appellant's disability discrimination claims?

3. Did the trial court provide adequate findings for appellate review of the employment discrimination claims brought under Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(2) (1986) and Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(6) (1986).

ANALYSIS
I.

Minn.Stat. Sec. 176.031 (1986) provides:

[The] liability of an employer prescribed by this chapter is exclusive and in the place of any other liability to such employee * * * entitled to recover damages on account of such injury or death.

It is undisputed that appellant recovered workers' compensation benefits because of injuries sustained in the course and scope of employment. The question in this case is whether respondent discriminated against appellant by refusing to rehire Karst or to accommodate his disability in accordance with the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Appellant's claims are based on Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(2) and Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(6).

The trial court found that plaintiff's action is barred by the exclusivity provision of Minn.Stat. Sec. 176.031 providing for employer's liability under the Workers' Compensation Act for the injuries and disabilities sustained. The trial court reasoned that:

5. Chapter 363 of Minnesota Statutes was not intended to require an employer to supplement the Workers' Compensation benefits by accommodating physically injured and handicapped employees with extraordinary assistance when they are unable to return to their job.

The trial court decision denies appellant's cause of action for disability discrimination.

Respondent and the trial court characterize appellant's claim as an attempt to "supplement worker's compensation benefits." Respondent argues that Minneapolis Police Department v. Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission, 402 N.W.2d 125 (Minn.Ct.App.1987), aff'd, 425 N.W.2d 235 (1988) supports its position. In Minneapolis Police Department, the court of appeals held, under Minn.Stat. Sec. 176.031, that a worker's decision to proceed under the Workers' Compensation Act for physical pain and suffering bars a similar and later claim against the employer. 402 N.W.2d at 133.

The Workers' Compensation Act establishes employer liability for work-related physical injuries. It is true that the earlier physical injuries constitute the setting or basis for the failure to allow Karst to return to work, yet the Workers' Compensation Act does not redress appellant's injuries resulting from separate acts of discrimination. The act of failing to allow Karst to return to work caused injuries separate from the earlier physical injury compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act, and therefore constitutes a separate factual basis for his discrimination action. The act of failing to allow Karst to return to work occurred after his work-related personal injuries. For these reasons, we hold that the provision of the Workers' Compensation Act is not a bar to a discrimination action under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

II.

Summary judgment is proper only where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Betlach v. Wayzata Condominium, 281 N.W.2d 328, 330 (Minn.1979); Minn.R.Civ.P. 56.03.

In analyzing cases brought under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minnesota applies the test in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), consisting of a prima facie case, an answer and a rebuttal. Sigurdson v. Isanti County, 386 N.W.2d 715, 719-20 (Minn.1986). It is not clear from the briefs or the record whether appellant's disparate treatment claim is for discriminatory discharge or failure to hire. See Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(2)(a) (discriminatory refusal to hire); Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(2)(b) (discriminatory discharge). In either case, we leave this issue for further consideration by the trial court.

The plaintiff in an action for reasonable accommodation discrimination under Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(6) must establish the following elements of a prima facie case:

1. The employer must employ 50 or more full-time employees;

2. The employee must be a qualified disabled person;

3. The disability must be known to the employer;

4. The employer failed to make reasonable accommodation to the disability.

Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(6) (1986). We find that material factual issues exist in the record on the elements of the prima facie requirements for a claim of reasonable accommodation discrimination.

Two of the four elements of a prima facie case of reasonable accommodation discrimination are undisputed. Both parties agree that F.C. Hayer employed 50 or more full-time employees at all relevant times. The parties and trial court findings indicate that the extent of appellant's injuries leave little doubt that he is disabled. It is also undisputed that Karst's disability was known to F.C. Hayer.

We agree with appellant's contention that the trial court erred in finding that there were no material facts indicating he is a "qualified disabled person" under Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.01, subd. 25a (1986). A qualified disabled person means:

[w]ith respect to employment, a disabled person who, with reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions required of all applicants for the job in question * * *.

Id. (emphasis added). In order to be a "qualified disabled person," Karst must have shown that he is a disabled person, who with reasonable accommodation can perform the essential functions of a warehouseman. The meaning of "reasonable accommodation" is provided in Minn.Stat. Sec. 363.03, subd. 1(6) (1986):

"Reasonable accommodation" means steps which must be taken to accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified disabled person. "Reasonable accommodation" may include but is not limited to: (a) making facilities readily accessible to and usable by disabled persons; and (b) job...

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