Women and Justice: Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Domestic Case Law

Women's Medical Professional Corp. v. Voinovich United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (1997)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

The plaintiff-appellant, an abortion clinic, sued the Governor of Ohio, the Attorney General of Ohio, and the prosecuting attorney for Montgomery County, challenging the facial constitutionality of an Ohio law regulating abortions. The district court ruled (i) that the prohibition on dilation and extraction abortions placed substantial, and hence unconstitutional, obstacles in the way of women seeking pre-viability abortions; (ii) that the combination of subjective and objective standards without scienter requirements rendered the “medical emergency” and “medical necessity” exceptions to the abortion prohibitions were unconstitutionally vague; and (iii) that the constitutional and unconstitutional provisions in the law could not be severed. The district court thus struck down the entire law and prohibited its enforcement. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.



Williams v. General Motors Corp. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (1999)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellant, who worked for General Motors for more than 30 years, sued the company for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming that she experienced a hostile work environment and retaliation. She alleged that she suffered a variety of sexually harassing comments, as well as other slights such as being the only employee denied a break and the only employee without a key to the office. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of her employer on both her hostile work environment and retaliation claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the plaintiff’s retaliation claim, but reversed and remanded the lower court’s ruling on her hostile work environment claim, finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether her allegations were sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to violate Title VII.



Smith v. City of Salem United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2004)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellant a trans woman lieutenant in the Salem, Ohio, Fire Department, sued the City of Salem, alleging discrimination based on sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, after she began expressing a more feminine appearance at work on a full-time basis, her co-workers informed her that she was not acting masculine enough. She then notified her immediate supervisor that she had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder and that she planned to physically transition from male to female. The plaintiff’s supervisor met with the City of Salem’s Law Director and other municipal officials, who required the plaintiff to undergo three psychological evaluations. The plaintiff retained legal counsel, received a “right to sue” letter from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, and was shortly thereafter suspended for one 24-hour shift, allegedly in retaliation for retaining counsel. The district court dismissed his complaint, but the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the plaintiff sufficiently plead a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII, as well as claims of sex stereotyping and gender discrimination.



Rreshpja v. Gonzalez United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2005)

International law, Sexual violence and rape, Trafficking in persons

The plaintiff-appellant, a citizen of Albania, arrived in the United States with a fraudulently obtained non-immigrant visa after a man attempted to abduct her in her home country. The Immigration and Nationalization Service initiated removal proceedings against her. During those proceedings the plaintiff requested either a grant of asylum or the withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture, arguing that she is at risk of being forced to work as a prostitute if she were to return to her home country. The immigration judge denied her application, as did the Board of Immigration Appeals. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial because the plaintiff was unable to show that she was a member of a particular social group that faced persecution in her home country.



Barnes v. City of Cincinnati United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2005)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellant, a trans (“a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual”) police officer, applied to be promoted to sergeant within the Cincinnati Police Department. The plaintiff passed the sergeants exam but failed a rigorous training program and was denied promotion. The plaintiff sued the City of Cincinnati, alleging that the denial of her promotion was due to sex-based discrimination and failure to conform to male sex stereotypes, such as wearing makeup, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause. The district court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $320,511 as well as attorney’s fees and costs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the plaintiff met all four requirements of a claim of sex discrimination: that the plaintiff is a member of a protected class, that she applied and was qualified for a promotion, that she was considered for and denied a promotion, and that other employees of similar qualifications who were not members of the protected class received promotions.



Women's Medical Professional Corp. v. Baird United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2008)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

The plaintiff-appellant operated an abortion clinic in Dayton, Ohio. Ohio law required it to be licensed, which in part required it to enter into a written transfer agreement with a Dayton-area hospital. When no hospital would enter into such an agreement with the plaintiff, it sought a waiver of the transfer agreement requirement. Even though the plaintiff had both a back-up group of physicians ready to provide emergency care and a letter from Miami Valley Hospital confirming that it would admit patients in the event of an emergency, the Director of the Ohio Department of Health denied the plaintiff’s request for a waiver and ordered that it immediately close. The plaintiff sought a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the Department of Health’s order. The District Court granted both requests and awarded attorney’s fees and expenses to the plaintiff. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the plaintiff’s procedural due process rights were violated, but vacated the permanent injunction and remanded the case for a hearing on the denial of the plaintiff’s application.



Thornton v. Federal Express Corp. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2008)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellant, a former employee of FedEx, the defendant, was discharged when she did not return from work after a 16-month leave of absence. She took this leave because of stress she suffered after being sexually harassed by her immediate supervisor, and she did not return to work because her health care providers had not released her from treatment for panic disorder and fibromyalgia. The plaintiff sued for sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as discrimination based on disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of FedEx, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the plaintiff did not establish either that she was disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act or that she suffered an adverse employment action.



Kalaj v. Holder United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2009)

Sexual violence and rape, Trafficking in persons

The plaintiff-appellant, an Albanian citizen who entered the United States on a non-immigrant visa, fled her home country after facing three attempted kidnappings that she believed would have led her into forced prostitution. After escaping the third attempt, her uncle arranged for her to obtain a fake passport to enter the United States. After she applied for asylum with the Immigration and Nationalization Service, she was notified that she was subject to removal as an alien not in possession of valid entry documents. Both an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals denied her application for asylum. The Sixth Circuit affirmed these denials, finding that the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate that she was a member of a persecuted social group and unable to show that the Albanian government was unwilling or unable to protect her.



Gilbert v. Country Music Association, Inc. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2011)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ, Sexual harassment

After the plaintiff-appellant, a theater professional who was openly homosexual, complained that a coworker had threatened him based on his sexual orientation and a union hiring hall of which the plaintiff was a member refused to provide him with work. Gilbert sued his union and a collection of various employers, alleging, among other claims, discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court observed that, while Title VII prohibits sex discrimination, and that this prohibition includes “sex stereotyping” whereby a plaintiff suffers an adverse employment action due to his or her nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The court held that Gilbert had not plead a sex stereotyping claim since other than his sexual orientation, the plaintiff fit every male stereotype, and sexual orientation did not suffice to obtain recovery under Title VII: “[f]or all we know,” the Court stated, “Gilbert fits every ‘male stereotype’ save one—sexual orientation—and that does not suffice to obtain relief under Title VII.”



Kalich v. AT&T Mobility United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2012)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellant sued his employer, AT&T, in state court under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and AT&T removed the action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The plaintiff alleged that his immediate supervisor made a series of sexually inappropriate comments to him over the course of a year that created a hostile work environment. These comments included calling him by a girl’s name and telling him he looked like a girl. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that his supervisor’s conduct toward him was because of his gender. The appellate court noted that the plaintiff stated in his deposition that he believed that his supervisor made these derogatory comments because he knew or suspected that the plaintiff was gay and that sexual orientation discrimination was not a protected classification under Title VII or Michigan law.



Mathis v. Wayne County Board of Education United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2012)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The plaintiff-appellants’ sons were members of their middle school basketball team who were victims of sexual harassment by their teammates. The harassment ranged from arguably innocent locker room pranks to sexual violence. The plaintiffs sued the Wayne County Board of Education, alleging that the school board was deliberately indifferent to student-on-student sexual harassment in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. The District Court denied the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law and awarded the plaintiffs $100,000 each in damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the plaintiffs had established the following elements of a deliberate indifference claim: that the sexual harassment was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it could be said to deprive the plaintiff of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school; that the funding recipient (i.e. the board of education) had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment, and the funding recipient was deliberately indifferent to the harassment.



EEOC v. New Breed Logistics United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2015)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellant, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, initiated sexual harassment and retaliation claims under Title VII against New Breed Logistics, the defendant, on behalf of three employees. The plaintiff alleged that Calhoun, a supervisor at New Breed sexually harassed three female employees and then retaliated against the women after they complained. The plaintiff further alleged that Calhoun retaliated against a male employee who verbally objected to Calhoun’s harassment of the women. The evidence presented to the district court that showed that each woman communicated her intent to complain about Calhoun’s sexual harassment shortly after which all three women were fired or transferred. One of the women lodged a complaint through the company’s complaint line but the company asked Calhoun five questions about his conduct and determined there was no misconduct. A jury found the defendant liable under Title VII for Calhoun’s sexual harassment and retaliation, and the district court denied the defendant’s post-trial motions for a new trial and judgment as a matter of law. The district court determined that complaints to management and informal protests were protected activities under Title VII. Therefore, the three employees’ demand that Calhoun stop harassing them were considered protected activity under Title VII, and retaliation constituted a violation of Title VII. The defendant appealed, challenging the district court’s denial of its post-trial motions. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decisions, finding that sufficient evidence supported the district court’s rulings and that the district court did not abuse its discretion when providing instructions to the jury.



Ault v. Oberlin College United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2015)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-appellants, three female dining services department employees, sued Oberlin College, the defendant alleging that they suffered various acts of sexual harassment at the hands of the executive chef of the private contractor, Bon Appetit, that operated the dining facilities. The plaintiffs brought this suit under Chapter 4112 of the Ohio Revised Code, which prohibits sexual harassment in the work place and holds employers responsible for sexual harassment committed by employees or nonemployees in the work place, where the employer knows or should have known but fails to intervene. The plaintiffs initially sued in state court, and the defendants removed. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed on all but one count. The court held that, with respect to one of the plaintiffs but not the other two, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the conduct the employee endured was sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to affect the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.



Jackson v. VHS Detroit Receiving Hospital, Inc. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2016)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff-appellant worked as a mental health technician for the defendant, Detroit Receiving Hospital’s Mental Health Crisis Center. Her duties included assisting registered nurses with treating psychiatric patients. A few days after assisting a nurse with the mistaken discharge of a patient who should not have been discharged, the plaintiff’s employment was terminated, even though she consistently received high ratings on her performance evaluations. The plaintiff sued the defendant for sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, but the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case of sex discrimination, in part because two men committed “nearly identical” infractions of “comparable seriousness” and were not terminated like the plaintiff. The appellate court remanded the case for trial proceedings.



Simpson v. Vanderbilt University United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2017)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff-appellant was a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who solicited clients for her own private business, which the defendant, Vanderbilt University, considered to be a violation of its Conflict of Interest Policy, its By-Laws, and its Participation Agreement. The defendant terminated the plaintiff’s employment and she sued the defendant, alleging that her termination was due to gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, holding that the plaintiff failed to identify a suitable male comparator and thus did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding key differences between the plaintiff’s conduct and that of the male comparator she identified, including most notably the fact that the male comparator had disclosed his work outside of Vanderbilt University on his conflict of interest form.



Dittrich v. Woods United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2011)

Sexual violence and rape

Thomas Dittrich was accused of having a three-month relationship with his daughter’s thirteen-year-old classmate, the Complaintant. The relationship began when the Complaintant went to Dittrich’s house to visit his daughter, and quickly progressed into a mutual intimate relationship. When the Complaintant’s parents uncovered the relationship, they immediately intervened and a criminal suit was filed against Dittrich. At trial, Dittrich’s family, the Complaintant, and other third parties testified about his conduct with Complaintant. Dittrich’s family recounted his history of domestic violence, to which Dittrich’s attorney did not object. Dittrich also tried to examine Complaintant about her sexual history, but could not overcome Michigan’s rape shield law by offering proof as to his proposed evidence. The jury convicted Dittrich on seven counts of criminal sexual conduct, sentencing him to 95-180 months’ imprisonment. Dittrich appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals and then to the Michigan Supreme Court, on claims that (1) he was denied effective counsel due to his attorney’s failure to object to his family’s domestic violence testimony, and (2) the court, by denying his motion to examine Complaintant about her sexual history, violated his right to confrontation. Both courts denied relief. In 2007, Dittrich petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging both ineffective assistance of counsel and a violation of his confrontation right. The district court granted the writ, holding the confrontation violation was harmless, but Dittrich did receive ineffective assistance of counsel. The state appealed that decision and Dittrich cross-appealed on the confrontation claim. The Sixth Circuit reasoned that to prove ineffective assistance of counsel, one must demonstrate that counsel’s performance was deficient, and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Although the court found that Dittrich’s counsel’s performance was deficient, they ruled that the deficiency did not prejudice the defense due to the overwhelming evidence against Dittrich. As to the confrontation claim, the court reviewed Dittrich’s request based on whether the error had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict. The court held that Dittrich’s proposed inquiries into the Complaintant’s sexual history would have been of minimal value. Thus, the court’s decision to exclude the evidence did not have a “substantial and injurious effect” on the jury’s verdict. The court reversed the district court’s grant of habeas relief on Dittrich’s ineffective-assistance claim and affirmed its rejection of his right-to-confrontation claim.