Civil Rights

This summary also appears under Employment & Labor Law

 

Issues: The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA); Alleged violation of MCL 37.2202; "Direct evidence"; Hazle v. Ford Motor Co.; DeBrow v. Century 21 Great Lakes, Inc. (After Remand); Effect of the fact the plaintiff was white; Lind v. City of Battle Creek; "Indirect evidence"; McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green; Town v. Michigan Bell Tel. Co.; Human resources (HR)

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)

Case Name: Shaft v. Jackson Nat'l Ins. Co.

e-Journal Number: 58141

Judge(s): Per Curiam – Saad and Whitbeck; Dissent – Fitzgerald

 

Holding that the plaintiff (who was white) did not show "direct evidence that her race was a factor" in the termination of her employment, and that she also failed to present indirect evidence of discrimination, the court reversed the trial court's order denying the defendant summary disposition and remanded for entry of an order of dismissal. In connection with an employee newsletter, plaintiff sent an e-mail to a co-worker (J, an African-American) that contained an update on her summer activities and noted that she and her husband had been cleaning his grandmother's attic, where they found a number of items. She closed her e-mail by stating that "she also discovered a small, yellowed ticket in the attic, which purported to admit the holder to a basketball game at the 'Masonic Auditorium' on St. Patrick's Day between the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of Columbus, for the benefit of the 'Jewish Relief Fund' - sponsored by the 'Advancement of Colored People' with 'Greek Referees.'" Plaintiff wrote that "the ticket 'was probably the funniest thing [she and her husband] had found yet' and that there were about '7 things wrong with the event . . . .'" Plaintiff ended her e-mail with a smiley face emoticon. The e-mail upset and offended J. Plaintiff's manager and an HR officer (R) met with plaintiff. R told her that she felt the e-mail was "inappropriate" and a violation of defendant's harassment policy. While R did not believe plaintiff "supported the KKK or intended to create a hostile work environment" for J, she concluded that plaintiff "did not seem to understand how submitting the ticket was 'inappropriate in a work environment' and that doing so had potential to cause offense." Plaintiff presented evidence that R "repeatedly referenced" J's race at the meeting. Assuming this was so, the court concluded that "it does not constitute direct evidence of unlawful discrimination." Plaintiff failed to produce any evidence that her race - rather than the content of her e-mail - was the reason for her discharge. Defendant "never mentioned plaintiff's race in its many statements on why it terminated" her. She made this inference and implied "that had she not been white, she would not have been discharged. But this is not direct evidence - it is only speculation." Rather, "the conclusion that follows from the evidence is that it is the content of the message, not the race of the messenger, that led to" her discharge. The court noted that if it were "to adopt plaintiff's argument, employers would be placed in an impossible situation." The ELCRA "should not and cannot be read to both place the onus on employers to regulate speech that may constitute unlawful harassment, and then simultaneously penalize an employer when it conducts an obligatory investigation into the very subject raised by the alleged offensive speech."

 

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