Submitted: January 10, 2017
from United States District Court for the District of
Minnesota - Minneapolis
RILEY, Chief Judge  , WOLLMAN and BENTON, Circuit
BENTON, Circuit Judge.
J. Sellner sued his former employer, MAT Holdings and its
subsidiaries Midwest Air Technologies, Inc., MAT Industries,
and Sanborn Manufacturing Company (collectively
"MAT"). He alleges retaliation under the Minnesota
Whistleblower Act, Minn. Stat. § 181.932. The district
court granted summary judgment to MAT. Having jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. 1291, this court reverses and remands.
manufactures and markets air compressors, pneumatic air
tools, and pressure washers-all sold at retailers and home
centers. In June 2011, MAT hired Sellner as a lab-quality
technician at its facility in Springfield, Minnesota. His
primary responsibility was to conduct lab testing and report
the results to supervisors. Travis W. Strong, the Quality
Assurance and Product Service Manager, was Sellner's
direct supervisor. Alan D. ("Butch") Stark is the
facility's general manager.
Sellner's first day, Strong told him that one of
MAT's products, the Honbase pump, had serious problems
with oil leakage during testing. In August 2011, MAT began
working with the retailer Sears to add a compressor with the
Honbase pump to Sears' Craftsman product line. Later that
month, Sellner was assigned to complete testing whether
certain changes to the Honbase pump improved oil consumption
and life performance.
March 29, 2012, Sellner alleges Stark told him to "get
together everything [they] had on the [Honbase] pump."
Sellner gathered and delivered the data to Stark. According
to Sellner, later that day Engineering Lab Manager Joel D.
Schiller said that the results Sellner compiled were
"sh*t" and could not be used in any report for
claims that within hours, Stark entered his office and said
Sears called MAT "on the carpet" for overstating
the performance and quality of the Honbase pump. Stark then
allegedly told Sellner to produce a report showing no major
issues with the Honbase pump. Sellner says that when he told
Stark that no units performed without major issues, Stark
said, "well, if you don't do this, we're all
going to be on the street-no, you're going to be on the
street." Sellner states that when he told Stark that he
would not falsify any testing data and that his request was
illegal, Stark said he should "get creative with [his]
documentation." In his testimony, Joshua Beach, a lab
technician, swears he overheard these parts of the
conversation: Stark saying that Sears was calling MAT
"on the carpet, " Stark encouraging Sellner to get
creative with testing, and Sellner refusing. Beach says that
after the conversation with Stark, Sellner said, "Well,
there's my job." According to Sellner, Stark
continued to return to his office throughout the day,
pressuring him to complete a report with falsified data.
testified that throughout the next day, March 30, Stark
continued to pressure him, and Sellner continued to refuse.
Later that day, Sellner called the Minnesota Department of
Labor and Industry (MNOSHA). He reported he was instructed to
"doctor up some documentation." He also filled out
an online form. Beach swears that "a day or two"
later, he told Strong about Sellner's report to MNOSHA.
March 30, MAT posted a job opening for a Quality
Assurance/Test Lab Leadperson. Strong recommended Sellner for
the promotion; Stark approved. Sellner learned of his
promotion on April 3, just before he and Strong left for
China on business. On April 10, while Sellner was in China,
Janis Nebel, the corporate Director of Human Resources at
MAT, received an anonymous email accusing Sellner of
inappropriate conduct. On April 16, Sellner returned from
China. Strong recommended an above-standard pay increase
along with the promotion, saying that Sellner "brought
vast intellectual knowledge and experience across all
facets." Strong and Stark signed the paperwork proposing
the pay increase.
investigated, on-site, personnel issues at the Springfield
facility from April 23 through 25. Several employees met with
Nebel and made allegations about Sellner's workplace
behavior. Sellner says that he told Nebel he was asked to
"fudge test results out of the lab when the units were
failing to save the Sears contract." The next day,
Sellner was terminated. He never received the pay increase or
the promotion. MAT maintains it fired Sellner for
"unacceptable conduct" including
"inappropriate and offensive statements made to and
about his colleagues, and inability to maintain positive and
productive relationships with his co-workers, and engaging in
conduct that adversely affected the productivity of the
sued MAT for wrongful termination under the Minnesota
Whistleblower Act (MWA), Minn. Stat. § 181.932. The
district court granted MAT summary judgment on the MWA claim.
Sellner also brought five other claims, which the district