Martin v. City of St. Paul

Decision Date05 June 2012
Docket NumberNo. 11–1716.,11–1716.
Citation680 F.3d 1027,45 NDLR P 80,26 A.D. Cases 516
PartiesScott ST. MARTIN, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. CITY OF ST. PAUL, Defendant–Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Patrick Thomas Tierney, argued, Sarah J. McEllistrem, on the brief, St. Paul, MN, for appellant.

Louise Toscano Seeba, argued, St. Paul, MN, for appellee.

Before LOKEN, BRIGHT and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

BRIGHT, Circuit Judge.

Scott St. Martin filed suit alleging the City of St. Paul (“the City”) engaged in discrimination, on three occasions, by promoting individuals other than him for a fire district chief position in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). The district court 1 granted summary judgment to the City on all counts. St. Martin now appeals the district court's judgment, contending the district court erred in finding that he is not disabled under the ADA or MHRA, and that he cannot maintain his MHRA claim as to the May 2009 act of alleged discrimination. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

St. Martin began working as a firefighter for the City in 1992 and was promoted to captain in 1999. In 2006, he injured his right knee and underwent reconstructive surgery. Consequently, he received workers' compensation from the City. After the surgery, St. Martin returned to work on a light-duty schedule, performing administrative duties at the fire department. Thereafter, he worked briefly as an arson investigator.

In 2007, the City announced an opening for a fire district chief position, which is one rank above captain. St. Martin applied for the position and took a four-part examination. Based on his scores, St. Martin ranked second out of twenty-one candidates. Department chief Timothy Butler then added an interview portion to the exam, and the top five candidates were interviewed by a panel consisting of Butler, three deputy chiefs, and the assistant fire chief of operations. By the time of the interview in February 2008, two additional fire district chief positions had opened up, and as required by the City, St. Martin took a physical exam and received medical clearance from the City's physician. During the interview, Butler asked about St. Martin's knee condition and whether he would need accommodations if he was promoted to fire district chief. Despite being the panel's first choice for the position, St. Martin was not promoted; instead, Butler, who had ultimate authority to make the decision, promoted those candidates ranked numbers three, four, and five. According to a union representative for the local fire fighters' union, Butler told her at some point after the interview that he was going to give St. Martin “the disability benefits he wants.”

Another fire district chief position opened up in late 2008. St. Martin applied and interviewed with a panel consisting of Butler, who again inquired about St. Martin's knee issue. Butler then informed St. Martin in a November 2008 email that he would not be promoted. Butler made this decision even though St. Martin was the other panel members' pick. In the email, Butler recommended St. Martin invest in his professional development, but that “given your medical status that will prove difficult.” Butler also sent an email to the City's human resources contact person, stating:

We are at an impasse with [St. Martin]: he cannot do the job, and we shouldn't order him to complete training that certifies him to do a job we cannot let him do, AND we don't want to fail in our duty to get him the recert he needs as a term and condition of his employment. There is no guarantee that he'll make district chief, and to be frank, I would not willingly promote him unless I was forced to. I would prefer he retire, take his disability, and open up further options on the district chief list.

(Appellant's App. 220). In May 2009, St. Martin interviewed for a fire district chief position for the third time and, again, Butler did not promote St. Martin.

St. Martin testified that at all relevant times he sought work with the City in any capacity. However, he only received work as a commercial vehicle inspector in January 2010. He was let go from that position after only two weeks because of his knee injury. St. Martin also worked at his brother's landscaping company during a few off-season months, but did not perform any actual landscaping work. St. Martin took disability retirement in December 2009 and now works as a fire inspector for the City.

Before his May 2009 interview, St. Martin filed a disability discrimination charge against the City with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC dismissed the claim, but notified St. Martin of his right to file suit. St. Martin then filed a complaint in Minnesota setting forth two counts: (1) disability discrimination by the City in violation of the MHRA by refusing to hire him as fire district chief and failing to reasonably accommodate him, and (2) disability discrimination by the City in constructively terminating his employment in violation of the ADA and failing to reasonably accommodate him, all because of his disability and/or perception thereof. Based on St. Martin's federal ADA claim, which relies on the same facts as his MHRA claim, the City timely removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

The district court granted the City's motion for summary judgment, finding: (1) St. Martin was not disabled under the ADA because his knee injury does not substantially limit his ability to work a broad class of jobs and the City did not regard him as being disabled, and (2) the City was not required to accommodate St. Martin's disability. The district court dismissed St. Martin's MHRA claim, finding he did not satisfy the MHRA's less stringent definition of disability. The district court also found that because the May 2009 interview was not part of St. Martin's discrimination charge before the EEOC, his ADA claim arising out of the May 2009 interview necessarily fails for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. St. Martin now appeals the district court's order granting the City's motion for summary judgment.2

DISCUSSION

This court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo and may affirm the district court on any basis supported by the record. Figg v. Russell, 433 F.3d 593, 597 (8th Cir.2006). Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute of any material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is appropriate where one party has failed to present evidence sufficient to create a jury question as to an essential element of its claim. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir.2011).

A.

St. Martin contends there are sufficient factual disputes regarding whether he is disabled under the ADA, which should be resolved by a jury. The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of the employee's disability. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101–213 (2006). A plaintiff seeking relief under the ADA must show (1) he is a disabled person as defined by the ADA, (2) he is qualified to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodation, and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability. Lors v. Dean, 595 F.3d 831, 834 (8th Cir.2010). Disability is defined as: (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual, (B) a record of such an impairment, or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1); seeMinn.Stat. § 363A.03, subdiv. 12 (2005).3 Working is a major life activity. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). “When the major life activity at issue is working, ‘the statutory phrase ‘substantially limits' requires, at a minimum, that plaintiffs allege they are unable to work in a broad class of jobs.’ Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 394 F.3d 1047, 1051 (8th Cir.2005) (quoting Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 491, 119 S.Ct. 2139, 144 L.Ed.2d 450 (1999)).

The parties do not dispute that St. Martin's knee injury is a physical impairment. The question is whether the physical impairment substantially limits his ability to work. St. Martin contends the knee injury (1) restricted him from performing the positions of a firefighter and fire captain within the City, (2) caused him to be decertified to work as a commercial vehicle inspector in Minnesota, and (3) made him unable to perform landscaping services. However, St. Martin must show an inability to work a broad class of jobs. See Knutson, 394 F.3d at 1051;Shipley v. City of Univ. City, 195 F.3d 1020, 1022–23 (8th Cir.1999) (affirming summary judgment where the record showed that appellant was able to perform a variety of jobs including car wash attendant, salesman, dry cleaner, and dish washer repairman). The fact that St. Martin worked briefly as an arson investigator for the City without accommodation after his surgery and is currently employed as the fire inspector for the City, undermines his contention. Adding to it is the fact that St. Martin was medically cleared to work as fire district chief. Further, St. Martin also worked in his brother's landscaping company, even if he did not perform actual landscaping work, for a few months after claiming disability retirement. On these facts, St. Martin fails to demonstrate he is unable to work a broad class of jobs. Consequently, he cannot show his knee injury substantially limits the major life activity of working, or a record thereof.

St. Martin also contends the City perceived him as disabled based on Butler's statements during and after the interviews, and on the City's refusal to employ him in any capacity for two years. The third prong of the ADA's definition of disability requires St. Martin show he “has been subjected to an...

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