Domestic Case Law

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.

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.

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.

Chambers v. Trettco, Inc. Michigan Supreme Court (2000)

Sexual harassment

A former employee brought an action against her employer under the Michigan Civil Rights Act.  She alleged that the employer was vicariously liable for 13 she suffered under her temporary supervisor.  The Michigan Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals wrongly relied on federal law to claims brought under the Michigan Civil Rights Act regarding 13.  The Michigan Supreme Court described two types of 13 outlined under Michigan law (M.C.L. § 37.2103(i), one type, “quid pro quo harassment” occurs when submission to conduct is a term or condition to obtain employment, or is used as a factor in determining decisions regarding employment.  A hostile work environment occurs when an employee must show that the employee was subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct or communication on the basis of sex, and “was intended to or in fact did substantially interfere with the employee’s employment or created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, and respondeat superior.  The court noted that while it has found vicarious liability in cases of quid pro quo harassment, it has not when the allegation is hostile work environment because there the supervisor “acts outside the scope of actual or apparent authority to hire, fire, discipline or promote.”  Instead, an employer will be vicariously liable if the employee shows that the employer failed to take prompt remedial action.  The court found no evidence of quid pro quo harassment; however, it did find that plaintiff’s testimony established a hostile work environment claim.  It remanded the case for a determination of whether the employer failed to take prompt remedial action in response to her hostile work environment claim.

Donajkowski v. Alpena Power Co. Supreme Court of Michigan (1999)

Gender discrimination

The Supreme Court held that under the Michigan Contribution statute, M.C.L. § 600.2925a, an employer sued for sex discrimination due to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement can seek contribution from the union that is party to the agreement.  Female employees brought a 4 claim against employer, Alpena Power Company, based on the collective bargaining agreement which created a new job classification for two female employees.  Previously, the two females had the same classification as their male counterparts.  Under this new classification, their pay was frozen.   Defendant filed a third party complaint seeking contribution from the union because defendant negotiated the agreement with the union.   The appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court allowing the third party complaint against the union, and the company and union appealed.  The Court found that defendant could seek contribution from the union; nothing in the language of the Michigan Civil Rights Act prohibited this.  Although generally, the statute was analogous to Title VII of federal law, the court noted that the state statute provided for a right to contribution, whereas federal law did not.  It also found that allowing for contribution did not oppose the legislative policy behind the statute, which among others, is that “discrimination in employment on the basis of sex is forbidden.”

Radtke v. Everett Michigan Supreme Court (1993)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff alleged that defendant sexually harassed her during a break from work.  The Court held that “a hostile work environment claim is actionable when the work environment is so tainted that, in the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position would have perceived the conduct at issue as substantially interfering with employment or having the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive employment environment.”  The court found that, although generally, more than one incident of 13 is needed for a hostile work environment claim, a single incident of 13 may be sufficient to establish a hostile work environment claim if the harassment is perpetrated by a supervisor in a close working environment.   The court also held that in determining whether a hostile work environment exists, the use of the reasonable person standard was acceptable; there was no need for the court to assess based on a “reasonable woman” standard.