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Ouellette-Koppen v. Advanced Skin Care Institute: US District Court : AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT | MHRA - being fired isn't being disabled;

1All disputed facts are construed in the light most favorable
to plaintiff, the non-moving party. Hughes v. Strottlemyre, 454
F.3d 791, 793 (8th Cir. 2006). The facts relied on in this
Opinion are based solely on the pleadings, and are not binding
factual determinations.
Sue A. Ouellette-Koppen )
v. ) ORDER
Advanced Skin Care Institute )
Medical, Surgical and )
Cosmetic Dermatology, P.A. )
Plaintiff, Sue A. Ouellette-Koppen, claims defendant, Advanced
Skin Care Institute Medical, Surgical and Cosmetic Dermatology,
P.A. (ASCI), wrongfully terminated her employment, in violation
of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota
Human Rights Act (MHRA). Defendant moves for partial summary
judgment. Defendants motion is granted.
I. Background1
Defendant is a dermatology clinic owned by Dr. O.J. Rustad in
White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Dr. Rustad employs about 30 people.
Plaintiff was an at-will employee, serving as the clinic
administrator from 1993 until February 24, 2006.
In December, 2005, the clinic conducted an internal review of
plaintiffs compensation, which revealed possible irregularities in
her vacation time and pay. Dr. Rustad referred the inquiry to
ASCIs accountant. On February 1, 2006, Dr. Rustad demoted
plaintiff from her position as clinic administrator for performance
reasons, and put her on a performance improvement plan. The
demotion was unrelated to her vacation pay. On February 9, 2006,
Dr. Rustad received the accountants report, which found plaintiff
had taken ,591 in excess vacation pay since 2000. Dr. Rustad
presented the report to plaintiff on February 15, 2009, and met with
her the next day to discuss the report. He told her that further
employment with the clinic would be conditional on her acknowledging
her role in accruing excess vacation pay, and developing a plan for
partial repayment of those funds. A second meeting was set for
February 23, 2006, at which time plaintiff was expected to meet
those demands.
On February 22, 2006 - one day before the meeting - plaintiff
was informed by her orthopedic surgeon that a shoulder injury, first
diagnosed in October, 2005, might require physical therapy and
surgery. The surgeon did not impose any work restrictions at this
time. At her February 23, 2006, meeting, she notified Dr. Rustad
of her impending need for time off to accommodate her treatment.
She also gave him a letter responding to the vacation time issue,
in which she argued her excess vacation time had been paid in good
faith based on her understanding of her compensation scheme. She
requested reinstatement to her position as clinic administrator and
an increase in salary.
This response was unsatisfactory to Dr. Rustad, who claims she
failed to acknowledge responsibility for the excess vacation pay,
and failed to comply with her performance improvement plan. Dr.
Rustad terminated plaintiffs employment on February 24, 2006.
Plaintiff applied for unemployment benefits, stating she had
been terminated for financial reasons. Her application was denied.
Plaintiff also sought workers compensation benefits. Workers
compensation was also denied because it was decided her shoulder
injury was not work-related. On April 10, 2006, plaintiffs doctor
imposed mild activity restrictions due to her shoulder injury, and,
on May 24, 2006, ultimately recommended plaintiff undergo surgery.
Plaintiff had shoulder surgery in June, 2006, and enjoyed a near
complete physical recovery.
Plaintiff sued defendant in Ramsey County District Court on
April 12, 2007, claiming violations of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12101
et seq., and MHRA, Minn. Stat. 363A.01-.41 (2004). She claims
defendant terminated her employment without attempting to reasonably
accommodate her medical needs, and that the grounds for her
termination were false. Defendant timely removed the matter to
federal court, and filed counter-claims related to the excess
vacation pay. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on
plaintiffs claims.
II. Analysis
Defendant contends plaintiff has failed to establish she was
disabled, and is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The Court agrees.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no material
facts in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 250 (1986). The party opposing summary judgment may not rest
upon the allegations set forth in its pleadings, but must produce
significant probative evidence demonstrating a genuine issue for
trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250; see also Hartnagel v. Norman,
953 F.2d 394, 395-96 (8th Cir. 1992).
B. The ADA Claim
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a
qualified individual with a disability. 42 U.S.C. 12112(a).
To establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination under
the ADA, a plaintiff must establish she was disabled. Dropinski v.
Douglas County, 298 F.3d 704, 706-07 (8th Cir. 2002). The
determination as to whether a plaintiff was disabled is made as of
the time of the adverse employment decision. Browning v. Liberty
Mutual Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 1043, 1047 (8th Cir. 1999).
A disability is defined in the ADA as a physical or mental
impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life
activities of [an] individual. 42 U.S.C. 12102(2)(A). A
substantial limitation is one which renders an individual unable to
perform a basic function the average person in the general
population can perform, or significantly restricts the condition,
manner, or duration under which she can perform a major life
activity. 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(j)(1)(i)-(ii). Even if a plaintiff
is not actually disabled, she may still be considered disabled under
the ADA if she is perceived or regarded as having an impairment
that substantially limits a major life activity. Weber v.
Strippit, Inc., 186 F.3d 907, 914 (8th Cir. 1999) (quotations
A medical diagnosis alone or a temporary impairment with little
or no long-term impact is not sufficient to show a disability.
Toyota Motor Mfg. Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 198 (2002). The
impairments impact must . . . be permanent or long term. Id.
(citing C.F.R. 1630.2(j)(ii)-(iii) (2001)). While the ability
to work may be considered a major life activity, the inability to
perform a single particular job does not constitute a substantial
limitation in the major life activity of working. 29 C.F.R.
1630.2(j)(3)(i). Instead, to show a substantial limitation on her
ability to work, a plaintiff must show she is unable to work in a
broad class of jobs. Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S.
471, 491 (1999).
Even taking the facts precisely as alleged by plaintiff, the
Court finds no reasonable jury could conclude that, at the time of
her termination, plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the
ADA, nor was she perceived by defendant as disabled. At the time
of her termination, plaintiff was not subject to any work
restrictions whatsoever. The mere fact that her doctor had informed
her she would need physical therapy and possible surgery does not
suffice as - nor can it be equated to - a disability. Plaintiff
contends she was disabled in the major life activity of working
because she was terminated from her position. She is mistaken in
this view, because she was not disabled from working; she was
fired. Even if the Court assumes plaintiff was fired because of her
shoulder injury, plaintiff is unable to show that her injury
impaired her from working in a broad class of jobs.
Plaintiff attempts to extend her argument by asserting that,
when she informed her employer of a need for physical therapy and
surgery, Dr. Rustad would have perceived her as disabled. She has
no evidence to support this position, but merely infers such a
perception based on his knowledge as a medical doctor. The flaw
here, of course, is that her argument is ex post: she forgets that
at the time of her termination, even her treating physician had not
placed her under any work restrictions due to her injury. It is
absurd to conclude that Dr. Rustad, a dermatologist, could have
perceived that which her attending orthopedic surgeon had not yet
deduced. Even according to plaintiff, at the time of her
termination, she had complained of shoulder discomfort, but nothing
2Plaintiff argues that defendants swift termination of her
employment was an attempt to avoid engaging in the interactive
process to accommodate her disability, as is required by the ADA.
The Court need not address this argument, in light of its finding
that plaintiffs injury is not protected by the ADA.
more, and she had no difficulties performing her job duties.
(Rustad Dep. 23, Jan. 16, 2008). There is simply nothing in the
record to support plaintiffs assertion that Dr. Rustad perceived
her as disabled.
Plaintiff has failed to show that, at the time of her
termination, she had any physical impairment or perceived impairment
that substantially limited her ability to perform a major life
activity. Accordingly, she is not entitled to protection under the
ADA, and her discrimination claim fails.2
C. Protection Under the MHRA
Like the ADA, the MHRA protects an individual with a disability
from being fired because of a disability. Minn. Stat. 363A.08
subd. 2(2). The MHRA definition of disability is nearly identical
to that of the ADA; a plaintiff must show that an impairment
materially limits her ability to perform one or more major life
activities. Minn. Stat. 363A.03 subd. 12. Because the difference
between the two definitions is merely semantic, however, the
standards are treated as being the same. See Weber v. Strippit,
Inc., 186 F.3d 907, 912 n. 4 (8th Cir. 1999). For the reasons set
forth concerning plaintiffs unavailing ADA claim, the Court finds
plaintiff was not disabled under the MHRA. Plaintiff was not
materially impaired from performing a major life activity, and is
therefore not qualified for protection under the MHRA.
IV. Conclusion
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that:
1. Defendants motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs
claims [Docket No. 33] is granted.
2. Plaintiffs claims are dismissed with prejudice.
Dated: August 19, 2008
United States District Judge


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