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Sieden v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 26, 2017

Philip Sieden Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: November 16, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before BENTON and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges, and STRAND, [1] District Judge.

          STRAND, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Philip Sieden appeals the district court's[2] grant of summary judgment in favor of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (Chipotle), on his reprisal claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). The district court found that Sieden failed as a matter of law to establish that his employer's proffered reason for discharge was pretextual. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Chipotle operates a national chain of restaurants with multiple locations in Minnesota. Each restaurant is managed by a general manger who reports to an area manager. Above the area managers are team directors. During the relevant time period, Todd Patet was the area manager in Sieden's area and Travis Moe was the team director of the Minnesota market.

         Sieden began working at Chipotle in 2001 as an at-will employee. During his employment, Sieden rose through the ranks and was eventually promoted to general manager of a newly-built restaurant in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota. On October 12, 2010, Seiden was promoted again, this time to Restaurateur. This title indicated that he was among Chipotle's best general managers and had achieved certain high standards at the Vadnais Heights location. On March 28, 2011, Sieden received another promotion, this time to Restaurateur 2, meaning he was responsible for maintaining the status of his home restaurant (Vadnais Heights) while also mentoring the general manager at a restaurant in Crystal, Minnesota, until that manager reached Restaurateur status. On May 31, 2011, Sieden was promoted to Restaurateur 3, adding a third restaurant, in Blaine, Minnesota, to his responsibilities.

         In March 2012, Moe and Patet visited the Crystal location and met with Sieden. Ultimately, they removed the Crystal location from Sieden's responsibilities due to performance issues. In April 2013, during a managers meeting, Moe told Sieden that he was hiring "too many Hmong people." Sieden defended his employment decisions. Following the meeting, Sieden verbally complained about Moe's comment but did not file a formal complaint with Chipotle. In May 2013, Sieden's responsibilities were further limited to acting manager of one location, North Maplewood, although he retained his title of Restaurateur. On June 18, 2013, Moe and Patet met with Sieden and terminated his employment.

         Sieden filed suit in a Minnesota state court asserting claims under the MHRA of (1) reprisal, (2) age discrimination and (3) sexual orientation discrimination. Chipotle removed the case on the basis of diversity jurisdiction and ultimately moved for summary judgment. On September 3, 2015, the district court granted Chipotle's motion as to the reprisal and sexual orientation discrimination claims. The age discrimination claim proceeded to trial, with the jury returning a verdict in favor of Chipotle. Sieden's appeal addresses only the district court's grant of summary judgment on his reprisal claim.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         "We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment, viewing the evidence 'in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'" Barkley, Inc. v. Gabriel Brothers, Inc., 829 F.3d 1030, 1038 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Beverly Hills Foodland, Inc. v. United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 655, 39 F.3d 191, 194 (8th Cir. 1994)). "If there is 'no dispute of material fact and reasonable fact finders could not find in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is appropriate.'" Shrable v. Eaton Corp., 695 F.3d 768, 770-71 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Fercello v. Cnty. of Ramsey, 612 F.3d 1069, 1077 (8th Cir. 2010)). We may affirm a grant of summary judgment on any basis supported by ...


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