Civil Rights

This summary also appears under Employment & Labor Law

 

Issues: Action for wrongful termination by a state government employee under the Michigan Civil Rights Act (CRA) (MCL 37.2101 et seq.); Whether the defendant-state representative (Banks) was entitled to absolute immunity from suit under the Speech or Debate clause of Michigan's constitution for personnel decisions involving members of his staff who might have involvement in the legislative process; Const. 1963, art. 4, § 11; Auditor Gen. v. Wayne Circuit Court; Bishop v. Wayne Circuit Judge; Prelesnik v. Esquina; Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund; Wilkins v. Gagliardi; United States v. Helstoski; Scope of immunity; Gravel v. United States; Judicial immunity; Forrester v. White; Legislative immunity for "legislative acts"; Fowler-Nash v. Democratic Caucus of PA House of Reps. (3rd Cir.); Fields v. Office of Eddie Bernice Johnson (DC Cir.); Bastien v. Office of Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (10th Cir.); Chateaubriand v. Gaspard (9th Cir.); Negron-Gaztambide v. Hernandez-Torres (1st Cir.); Agromayor v. Colberg (1st Cir.); Browning v. United States House of Reps. (DC Cir.); Whether plaintiff stated a claim of retaliation under the CRA; Barrett v. Kirtland Cmty. Coll.; Whether the CRA is the exclusive remedy for claims of sexual harassment and discrimination; Monroe Beverage Co., Inc. v. Stroh Brewery Co.; Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED); Campos v. Oldsmobile Div., Gen. Motors Corp.; Principle that courts will not lightly presume the abrogation or modification of the common law; Dawe v. Bar-Levav & Assocs., PC

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Published)

Case Name: Cotton v. Banks

e-Journal Number: 59625

Judge(s): M.J. Kelly, Servitto, and Stephens

 

The court held that the trial court did not err when it denied defendant-Banks' motion seeking immunity under the Speech or Debate clause for terminating a staff member. It also held that the trial court did not err in finding that the plaintiff-former staff member sufficiently pleaded the elements of a retaliation claim under the CRA to survive summary disposition. Finally, it held that the trial court properly found that the enactment of the CRA did not abrogate the common law claim for IIED. Plaintiff sued Banks for wrongful termination claiming he violated the CRA "by discriminating against him on the basis of his sex, by demanding sexual favors as a condition of employment, by creating a hostile work environment, and by retaliating against him." He also alleged that "Banks intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him through sexual harassment." He also sued the State of Michigan (State), alleging vicarious liability. The trial court granted the State's motion for summary disposition and dismissed it as a party. It also allowed plaintiff to amend his complaint to include the House of Representatives as a defendant. Finally, it denied Banks' motion for summary disposition. On appeal, the court rejected his argument that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for summary disposition on the ground that he was absolutely immune from suit under the Speech or Debate clause. "None of [plaintiff's] allegations involve a legislative act; even the ultimate decision to terminate [his] employment did not involve legislative concerns, but was merely administrative." Thus, "on the face of the pleadings, the immunity provided under the Speech and Debate clause does not apply to" the claims. "Moreover, even considering Banks' version of events and his evidentiary submissions in support, the result is the same." Banks' "proffered reasons do not implicate [plaintiff's] involvement in any legislative acts and do not require inquiry into Banks' legislative acts or the motivation behind his legislative acts." The court also rejected his argument that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss plaintiff's claim premised on retaliation for reporting the alleged sexual harassment, noting that plaintiff alleged that he "'reported all of the above acts to his superiors, however, the acts continued and never ceased.'" He "incorporated these allegations into his claim for retaliation and further alleged that Banks retaliated against him in several ways for exercising his rights under the Civil Rights Act. These allegations were sufficient to state a claim of retaliation . . . ." Finally, the court rejected his argument that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss plaintiff's IIED claim on the ground that the CRA is the exclusive remedy for claims of sexual harassment and discrimination. It held that he could properly allege a claim for IIED "premised on facts which might also support a claim under the" CRA. Affirmed.

 

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