Focus, Human Resources, and Law

State workers get go-ahead in job discrimination cases

November 28, 2014
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Federal courts have dealt a double defeat to the state in job discrimination-related suits by former employees.

In one newly decided case, a judge in Detroit ruled that a legal secretary for the Unemployment Insurance Agency can pursue her allegation of a racially and sexually hostile workplace.

U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain said Sonya Bradley, who is African-American, presented enough evidence of harassment by supervisors and co-workers to let the claim against three white supervisors proceed.

In a separate case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a new trial to retired State Police Sgt. Linda Mys. She accused the department of illegally retaliating after she filed sexual harassment complaints through the Internal Affairs office.

The court said a trial judge should have let Mys present evidence to the jury that a male sergeant harassed and intimidated her and that a male lieutenant spread false rumors that led to her involuntary transfer.

In the Bradley case, Drain dismissed the rest of her suit, including claims of civil rights violations and retaliation.

In 1988, Bradley joined the attorney general’s office in Detroit, then transferred to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, according to the suit. The Unemployment Insurance Agency is part of LARA.

She is assigned to work on unemployment insurance agency cases handled by the Attorney General’s office.

The suit alleges that Bradley’s supervisors “enforced institutional racism against her and all African-Americans” working in the attorney general’s Detroit office.

“This unspoken rule and policy, like black codes in the early 1900s, is designed to restrict and exclude any further ingress of African-Americans to the workforce in Detroit, and to remove those already among them as speedily as possible,” the suit read.

She claimed to be the target of illegal retaliation after she complained about race-related and sex-related incidents and after she reported suspected abuses of a government credit card.

The state denied all the allegations.

In his decision, Drain said a trial is necessary to determine whether the allegedly harassing behavior of Bradley’s coworkers and supervisors was “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to create “an abusive working environment.”

The state argued that she was “merely subjected to ‘belittling statements’” that were not serious enough to create a hostile work environment.

Bradley’s lawyers did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In the State Police case, Mys became a trooper in 1987 and was promoted in 1999 to sergeant and assigned to the Newaygo post.

The suit claims that another sergeant at the Newaygo post made unwanted sexual advances to Mys, and that she was the victim of retaliation, including transfers to posts in Rockford and then Detroit, after she filed formal Internal Affairs complaints.

Before trial, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker dismissed the sexual harassment claim and limited the evidence Mys could present at trial on the retaliation claim. The jury sided with the state.

Her lawyer, Collin Nyeholt of Okemos, said Mys will seek punitive and compensatory damages at the new trial, but added, “We can’t have the jury undo what they” — members of the State Police — “did to her.”

Nyeholt said he didn’t know whether any members of the State Police were disciplined on the basis of her complaints, a question that State Police press officer Shanon Banner said she couldn’t answer because the litigation is still underway.

The Attorney General’s office said it is reviewing both cases in consultation with the LARA and the State Police to determine next steps.

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