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Features Court Cases in the News

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A state-by-state review of court cases pertaining to workplace rights.

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Michigan

Citizens Republic Settles Detroit-Bias Claims

Source: Matthew Dolan, Wall Street Journal
Date: May 6, 2011

Federal law-enforcement officials reached a $3.6 million settlement with Citizens Republic Bancorp over allegations that branches of its banks discriminated against Detroit's black residents by improperly favoring white residents in southeastern Michigan.

Jury Awards $50,000 in Michigan Prison Bias Case

Source: AP, Chicago Tribune
Date: December 8, 2010

A jury has awarded $50,000 to a Michigan prison employee who says he was a victim of gender discrimination when he wasn't allowed to supervise women.

State Workers Triumph In Suit

Source: Chris Christoff, Free Press Lansing
Date: October 7, 2010

Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration violated state labor law when it revoked a 3% raise it promised to 15,000 state nonunion managers and supervisors -- the same pay raise that took effect for 35,000 unionized workers last Friday, an administration law judge has ruled

Chrysler Suspends Workers Caught Boozing on Tape

Source: AP, AP
Date: September 24, 2010

Chrysler says it has suspended some plant workers caught by a Detroit television station drinking alcohol and smoking what appeared to be marijuana during breaks.

Evans Solutions To Pay $47,500 To Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

Source: EEOC, EEOC
Date: September 21, 2010

The EEOC had charged that Evans Solutions, Inc. unlawfully discharged a school social worker diagnosed with breast cancer because it regarded her as disabled, even though she had a solid work record with the company.

Weight Discrimination Suit at Hooters Proceeds

Source: Dionne Searcey, Wall Street Journal
Date: August 26, 2010

A Michigan judge today ruled that two former waitresses who filed a weight discrimination case against the restaurant chain could proceed with their cases.

Hooters Responds to Cassie Smith Discrimination Lawsuit

Source: Fox Detroit, Fox Detroit
Date: June 2, 2010

Hooters officials fired back today at a former server who says she was put on probation for being overweight.

Rare Michigan Law May Help Waitress Win Weight Discrimination Lawsuit Against Hooters

Source: Jeff Engel, M Live
Date: May 27, 2010

A former Hooters worker in Roseville stands a chance of winning her weight discrimination lawsuit based on a law written by a retired Grand Rapids legislator -- a law not found in most states.

Hooters Sued for Weight Discrimination

Source: Nathan Koppel, Wall Street Journal
Date: May 25, 2010

Hooters was sued today in Michigan for allegedly violating a state law that bars discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, age, sex, height and, yes, weight.

Detroit City Workers Being Warned to Go Scentsless

Source: AP, AP
Date: March 16, 2010

City employees will be urged not to wear perfume, cologne or aftershave as a result of a settlement in a federal lawsuit.

Michigan court: no same-sex benefits

Source: David Eggert, Washington Post
Date: February 2, 2007

Public universities and state and local governments would violate the state constitution by providing health insurance to the partners of gay employees, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled. A three-judge panel said a 2004 voter-approved ban on gay marriage also applies to same-sex domestic partner benefits. The decision reverses a 2005 ruling from a judge who said universities and governments could provide the benefits.

Workers claim racial discrimination: Bias or shakedown?

Source: Josee Valcourt, Detroit News
Date: May 23, 2006

Twenty-two current and former employees have sued Ford, claiming the automaker allowed discrimination against black employees to fester unchecked in recent years. Ford flatly denies the claims and says it will clear its name in court. In that way, the legal fight is similar to many that have played out in courtrooms across America. But outside the courtroom, the case is far from ordinary. Not with Willie Gary--a flashy and controversial Florida lawyer dubbed the "Giant Killer" for winning megaverdicts against major corporations--leading the charge against Ford. And not with some in Detroit wondering whether the effort is more about shaking money out of Ford than racial justice.

Jury awards Troy teacher $2.4 million

Source: Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press
Date: April 29, 2006

A federal jury awarded more than $2 million to a former math teacher at [a Michigan] high school, agreeing with the claim that she was fired because of her race. Agnes Auvenshine, who is Chinese, was fired in June 2002 and sued later that year. [Her] principal was ordered to pay $1.2 million and the school district also must pay $1.2 million, the jury ruled. Joe Golden, Auvenshine's attorney, said his client was told on four occasions that her race and national origin "were impacting her qualifications and ability to teach."

GM discrimination case is overturned

Source: Detroit Free Press
Date: December 31, 2005

The Michigan Court of Appeals has overturned a $6.2-million age discrimination verdict against General Motors, citing a number of problems in the circuit court case, including incorrectly putting together the claims of two workers. In a unanimous decision, the appellate court said the circuit court should not have lumped into one case the claims of Ellis Ross and Roger Holland. The men claimed they were passed over for promotions because of their age. The appeals court noted that the two men had different positions, qualifications, seniority and sought different jobs. [A] GM spokeswoman said the company is looking forward to two separate trials as required by the appellate court's ruling.

DaimlerChrysler bias lawsuit ends in mistrial

Source: Joel Kurth, Detroit News
Date: December 6, 2005

A former DaimlerChrysler AG executive's $21 million racial discrimination lawsuit against the auto giant ended in a mistrial Monday. U.S. District Judge Paul Borman made the declaration when jurors announced they were deadlocked after two days of deliberating Johnny Walker's claims that he was demoted in 2002 because he's black. The nine-member jury--comprised of eight whites and one black--heard arguments for 11 days. Walker claimed his 19-year career was ruined because he ran afoul of a white supervisor who regularly used racial slurs. A spokeswoman for Walker's attorney said he'll file for a retrial early next year.

Perfume allergy case brings $10M judgment

Source: Associated Press, Newsday
Date: May 24, 2005

Erin Weber said WYCD-FM fired her in 2001 after she complained she was allergic to another host's perfume. She said the station owner, Infinity Broadcasting Inc., discriminated against her for a disability--allergies--and retaliated after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A federal jury on Monday awarded Weber $7 million in punitive damages, $2 million for mental anguish and emotional distress and $1.6 million for past and future compensation. [An] Infinity spokeswoman said the company planned to appeal.

Detroit law firm accused of sex bias against female partner

Source: Associated Press, Detroit Free Press
Date: January 20, 2005

A partner in the law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn is taking it to court for what he says is sexual discrimination against her. Lisa Panepucci says she was denied job opportunities and compensation because she is a woman. She filed suit Jan. 5 in U.S. District Court in Detroit. [Panepucci] said she and other female percentage partners were routinely given lesser assignments than their male counterparts and allowed only limited exposure to clients, preventing them from forging long-term professional relationships with them. Panepucci said her problems worsened in 2002 when she asked for a 12-week maternity leave to adopt a child.

Ex-GR officer tells of hard times after being ousted from force

Source: Theresa D. Mcclellan, Grand Rapids Press
Date: December 2, 2004

Two years after former Grand Rapids police officer Patricia Denhof said she was forced off the job, she must work up to 18 hours a day at a handful of part-time jobs to make ends meet. Denhof, 43, and former Detective Renee LeClear, 37, are suing the city, claiming it tried to force them to quit their jobs because they were part of an earlier sexual-harassment lawsuit. The women claim their constitutional right to complain about alleged sexual discrimination was violated when the city "retaliated" by forcing them out of their jobs with the help of a negative evaluation from a city psychologist, who said they were "not fit for duty."

Update 4: DaimlerChrysler sex harassment verdit axed

Source: Associated Press, Forbes.com
Date: July 22, 2004

The Michigan Supreme Court threw out a $21 million verdict against DaimlerChrysler AG in a sexual harassment case brought by an autoworker, saying the amount was "so excessive and so clearly the product of passion and prejudice." In a 4-3 ruling Thursday, the court sent the case back for a new trial. Linda Gilbert has claimed DaimlerChrysler co-workers called her cruel names and left sexually explicit cartoons and photos on her locker at a Chrysler assembly plant in Detroit. Gilbert sued in 1994. She won her settlement in 1999, and it has been under appeal ever since. She was believed to be the first and for many years only female millwright at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit.

Michigan court rules on race bias suits

Source: David Eggert (AP), Kansas City Star
Date: June 11, 2004

A former police officer who accused his department of discriminating against him because he is white should not have a tougher time proving his case in court than a minority would, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday. In a 5-2 decision, the court struck down a legal standard requiring people who file reverse discrimination lawsuits to prove their employers have a track record of discriminating against majority groups. "We all ought to stand equally before the law," said Marshall Grate, attorney for Michael Lind. Lind sued the Battle Creek Police Department when it passed him over for a promotion to sergeant in 1996. The department promoted a black officer who had lower scores on written and oral exams.

Jury Awards $3 Million in Cinema Manager's Firing

Source: Ken Palmer, Flint Journal
Date: April 8, 2004

A jury has awarded more than $3 million to a Flint man who claimed he was unjustly fired from his manager's job at Showcase West theaters in Flint Township. Gary Trepanier, 52, said he was fired by National Amusements, which owns the Showcase chain, because he obtained a personal protection order against an employee he had been dating. The jury in Genesee County Circuit Court awarded Trepanier $180,000 for lost past wages, $844,500 for lost future wages and $1,024,500 each for past and future mental anguish, said his attorney, Glen N. Lenhoff. Lenhoff said the verdict may be the highest ever in a Michigan Whistleblower's Act case.

High Court Takes On Key Employment Law Issues

Source: Tony Mauro, Legal Times
Date: March 31, 2004

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to resolve two key employment law issues that have divided lower courts for years. One pair of cases will test the government's policy that calls for both the client and the lawyer to pay taxes on the portion of employment discrimination damage awards paid to the lawyer. The other question taken up stems from the Age Discrimination in Employment Act: Can plaintiffs use the act to bring suits that claim disparate treatment in the workplace? Courts have previously ruled such suits are permissible under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The cases will be argued in the fall. The tax cases, Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Banks, No. 03-892, and Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Banaitis, No. 03-907, ask whether the contingent-fee portion of an award should be treated as taxable income to the client. The fee is already taxed as income to the lawyer. Features quotes from NELA's Bruce Fredrickson and Angie Dalfen.

High Court Will Review Taxes on Lawsuit Awards

Source: Dallas Morning News
Date: March 30, 2004

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether some successful litigants must pay federal income tax on the part of their legal winnings that goes toward attorneys' fees. The justices agreed to hear two appeals by the Bush administration seeking to collect a greater share of the money, estimated to be as much as $40 billion a year, paid to plaintiffs' lawyers. The cases stem from a wrongful-discharge suit by a former UnionBanCal Corp. vice president and loan officer in Oregon and an employment discrimination suit by a former California state employee. Lower courts are divided on whether federal law requires litigants to treat as income the portion of a court judgment or settlement they paid directly to their attorney under a contingent-fee arrangement.

Supreme Court to Review Tax Dispute Over Judgments

Source: Linda Greenhouse, New York Times
Date: March 30, 2004

People who file discrimination suits often arrange to pay part of any eventual judgment to their lawyers. Under the standard contingent fee agreement, the lawyer's share goes directly to the lawyer and never comes into the client's possession. It is taxed as part of the lawyer's income. But in the view of the Internal Revenue Service, the lawyer's portion is taxable as income to the client as well, a form of double taxation that several federal appeals courts have rejected. On Monday, the Supreme Court granted the government's request to review the issue and settle the dispute.

Michigan Judge Rules Against Foes of Preferences Based on Race

Source: Greg Winter, New York Times
Date: March 27, 2004

A Michigan judge has delivered a setback to opponents of affirmative action, ruling that state election officials should never have approved the wording of petitions for a ballot initiative that would bar consideration of race in public employment or education. The issue dates from last summer, when the United States Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in a case involving admissions to the University of Michigan Law School. Within weeks of that decision, Ward Connerly, the businessman who had successfully led ballot initiatives against race-based preferences in California and Washington State, announced that he would turn his attention to Michigan.

Court Revisits Tax on Contingency Cash

Source: Tony Mauro, Legal Times
Date: March 26, 2004

When a client wins a damage award in court, the portion of the award that goes to the lawyer as a contingent fee is taxable income for the lawyer. But a long-simmering issue, now before the Supreme Court in a trio of cases, is whether the client should also pay taxes on that contingent fee money. At the Court's private conference today, the justices will consider Freeman v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 03-660; Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Banks, No. 03-892; and Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Banaitis, No. 03-907, among dozens of other cases. The Court is expected to announce as soon as Monday whether it will add these or other cases to its docket for review next fall. In nearly a dozen instances in recent years, the high court has denied review in cases raising the issue of a client's tax liability for contingent fees. But in those cases, the taxpayer lost in the courts below, and the Supreme Court heeded the solicitor general's advice not to review the taxpayers' appeals, as it usually does. What makes this batch of cases different -- and possibly more attractive to the Court -- is that the government has begun losing on this issue below. Now it is the government that is urging the high court to step in. "That always increases the chances of the Court granting review," says Russell Young, a Chicago tax partner in Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw who represents Joseph Banks II in the lead case before the Court.

CA Discrimination Suit Settled

Source: Mark Harrington, Newsday
Date: February 5, 2004

A racial and religious discrimination case that also broached accounting "discrepancies" at Computer Associates International Inc. was quietly settled last month by the company and the former sales executive who brought it. Jeffrey Hunter, who worked at CA for just under a year starting in 1999, agreed to a settlement at the end of January, according to court documents. Company spokesman Bob Gordon would only say the matter was "resolved." He declined to discuss terms of the settlement. Hunter, who had sought at least $500,000 in damages, plus lost commissions of around $250,000 and attorneys' fees, didn't return several calls for comment this week. The case had been scheduled to go to trial this month.

CA Discrimination Suit Settled

Source: Mark Harrington, Newsday
Date: February 5, 2004

A racial and religious discrimination case that also broached accounting "discrepancies" at Computer Associates International Inc. was quietly settled last month by the company and the former sales executive who brought it. Jeffrey Hunter, who worked at CA for just under a year starting in 1999, agreed to a settlement at the end of January, according to court documents. Company spokesman Bob Gordon would only say the matter was "resolved." He declined to discuss terms of the settlement. Hunter, who had sought at least $500,000 in damages, plus lost commissions of around $250,000 and attorneys' fees, didn't return several calls for comment this week. The case had been scheduled to go to trial this month.

Undocumented Worker Takes His Fight to the [Michigan] Supreme Court

Source: Ted Roelofs, Grand Rapids Press
Date: January 27, 2004

His thick, gnarled fingers and muscular arms give him away. Mexico native David Sanchez, 46, is a man accustomed to tough, physical labor. The West Michigan resident is also an undocumented worker -- who finds himself at the center of a closely watched legal fight over a claim for workers' compensation. At stake is a fundamental question: Are those who illegally cross our borders entitled to the same job benefits as American citizens?

Former Ford Europe Chief Sues Co. -Source

Source: Reuters, FindLaw Legal News
Date: November 19, 2003

The former chief of Ford Europe Martin Leach is suing the U.S. automaker about his departure from the company in August, an industry source told Reuters on Wednesday. The Financial Times reported that Leach is suing the company for up to 60 million euros, alleging the company wrongly announced he had resigned and then prevented him from working for a competitor. Court documents filed in Michigan showed Ford had been trying to push Leach out of his job as president and chief operating officer of the European division, said the paper.

Retailer Accommodates Sunday Observers

Source: Associated Press, Chicago Tribune
Date: July 11, 2003

Meijer Inc., the Michigan-based discount retail chain, has agreed to accommodate employees' religious practices after settling a lawsuit by a Christian Reformed Church member who was fired for refusing to work Sundays. In a settlement filed in federal court, Meijer agreed to train supervisors to avoid religious discrimination and allow shift swaps, The Grand Rapids Press reported. Personnel managers will settle conflicts, not an employee's immediate boss. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Meijer on behalf of Debra Kerkstra of Allegan, a cake decorator fired in 2001 after refusing a Sunday shift at a store in Plainwell. Kerkstra said she lined up a replacement, but the store would not allow the switch.

Affirmative-Action Rulings Spare Workplace Diversity

Source: Darren McKewen, CareerJournal
Date: June 30, 2003

The U.S. Supreme Court's June 23 decisions on affirmative action -- one condoning a race-conscious admissions policy used by the University of Michigan Law School and the other rejecting a policy used for incoming undergraduate freshmen -- have advocates of workplace diversity programs breathing a sigh of relief. Civil-rights groups and many employers joined in an unusual alliance encouraging the court to uphold the university's two affirmative action policies. Advocates of workplace diversity and affirmative-action were worried about the potential crossover impact if the court completely rejected the University of Michigan's policies, but the consensus following the decisions is that employer programs are in the clear. Article features quote from Workplace Fairness Program Director Paula Brantner.

Affirmative Action: A Corporate Diary

Source: Jonathan D. Glater, New York Times
Date: June 29, 2003

Corporate America put on a remarkable display of support for affirmative action when more than 60 companies signed briefs this year backing up the University of Michigan's use of race as a factor in deciding who can attend its law school. Early last week, the Supreme Court cited the companies' arguments when it upheld the law school's policies. "We were pleased that the court recognized the effort," said David DeBruin, a partner at the law firm of Jenner & Block in Washington, which helped draft a brief signed by 65 large companies, including household names like 3M, Coca-Cola and Microsoft. Money & Business called many companies that had filed briefs in support of Michigan, seeking nonwhite executives who might be willing to talk about their views on affirmative action and its role in their careers. While a number of companies declined to make employees available, some ? particularly technology companies ? agreed to participate.

Administration Lawyer Lauds Affirmative Action Ruling

Source: John Broder, New York Times
Date: June 28, 2003

Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, sought to appeal to a largely Democratic audience of Hispanic officials here today by praising the Supreme Court's decision this week upholding affirmative action in university admissions. Speaking at the annual meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Mr. Gonzales spoke approvingly of the decision written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, enshrining the principle of diversity in higher education as a "compelling national interest." Mr. Gonzales said President Bush ? whose solicitor general argued strenuously before the court against race-based admissions preferences ? "has consistently recognized the value of diversity on the nation's campuses."

Angry Groups Seeking a Justice Against Affirmative Action

Source: Neil A. Lewis, New York Times
Date: June 24, 2003

The Supreme Court rulings on the University of Michigan admission policies set off a wave of consternation among conservative groups today. As a result, several officials of the groups plan to demand that President Bush choose someone whose opposition to affirmative action is beyond doubt for a vacancy on the court. Several conservatives and a senior White House adviser said the person who stood to lose the most from any energized campaign on the right to seek an opponent of affirmative action would be Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel who is frequently mentioned as a likely choice to fill any court vacancy. Although Mr. Gonzales has said very little publicly about his position, he is widely viewed by conservatives as heretical on the issue and the person most responsible for blocking the White House from submitting a more hard-line brief to the court on the Michigan cases.

Ending Bias Takes More Than Time

Source: Diane Carman, Denver Post
Date: June 25, 2003

"We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today." -Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority in Grutter vs. Bollinger Some in the minority community wonder what the distinguished justice was thinking when she predicted that affirmative action might no longer be necessary in 2028.

Companies See Court Ruling as Support for Diversity

Source: Steven Greenhouse and Jonathan D. Glater, New York Times
Date: June 25, 2003

The Supreme Court's rulings yesterday about diversity in higher education sent a strong signal to the nation's employers that they can continue to use race as a factor in hiring, corporate executives and employment law experts said. In ruling on the admissions policies of the University of Michigan Law School, the court's majority opinion, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, cited the views put forward by General Motors and other companies in friend-of-the-court briefs that said achieving diversity was essential at universities and in workplaces to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. "The particular rationale she argued for was the needs of the globalization of business," said Bill Lann Lee, former director of the Justice Department's civil rights division. "She wrote about the practical benefits of diversity. She wrote that there is a business justification for diversity."

Businesses Hail Affirmative Action Ruling

Source: John Porretto (AP), FindLaw Legal News
Date: June 24, 2003

Several large corporations generally applauded the Supreme Court's mixed rulings Monday on the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies, saying anything that promotes a more diverse work place is good for business. In two varying decisions, the high court ruled that minority applicants can receive some preference when applying for admission to universities, but justices limited how much of a factor race can play in student selection. The court struck down a point system used by the University of Michigan for minority preferences but OK'd a separate program used at the college's law school that gives race less prominence in the admissions process. Dozens of big companies had backed the University of Michigan, saying such programs help produce better workers of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Justices' Affirmative Action Opinions Vary

Source: Darlene Superville (AP), FindLawLegal News
Date: June 24, 2003

Clarence Thomas quoted a famous abolitionist. John Paul Stevens said one of the cases should have been dismissed. Antonin Scalia talked of lessons learned in kindergarten. The Supreme Court's split decision Monday in a pair of challenges to affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan produced opinions that dissented from the majority for a variety of reasons. By a vote of 6-3, the high court struck down an undergraduate school policy that automatically gave a 20-point boost to minority applicants. It upheld a more general policy at the university's law school by a 5-4 vote.

Supreme Court Preserves Narrow Use of Affirmative Action in College Admissions

Source: Anne Gearan (AP), Boston Globe
Date: June 23, 2003

In two split decisions, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that minority applicants may be given an edge when applying for admissions to universities, but limited how much a factor race can play in the selection of students. The high court struck down a point system used by the University of Michigan to give minority preference, but did not go as far as opponents of affirmative action had wanted. The court approved a separate program used at the University of Michigan law school that gives race less prominence in the admissions decision-making process. Read the Opinions: Grutter v. Bollinger, et al. (law school case) Gratz et al v. Bollinger, et al. (undergraduate case)

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