Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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Two employees, Richard Miller and Brent Whitman, filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), alleging they were terminated in retaliation for their close friendship with Cedric Griffey, a deputy warden who was targeted by the MDOC after his wife, Lisa Griffey, filed a complaint and lawsuit against the MDOC for racial harassment. The plaintiffs claimed their termination was a violation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA).The Genesee Circuit Court denied the MDOC's motion for summary disposition, which argued that the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim under the ELCRA because they had not personally engaged in any protected conduct. The MDOC appealed this decision, and the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's ruling, concluding that the ELCRA did not authorize the plaintiffs' claims.The Michigan Supreme Court, however, disagreed with the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court held that the ELCRA does provide a cause of action for associational or "third party" retaliation claims. The court found that the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged such a claim, stating that they had a close relationship with Cedric Griffey and that the MDOC took adverse action against them in response to Griffey's protected acts. The court concluded that the plaintiffs' firings were part of the effort to retaliate against Griffey, and thus, they had stated a cause of action under the ELCRA. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Miller v. Michigan Department Of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The case involves Daniel L. Renner, a groundskeeper for Saginaw County, Michigan, who was part of a bargaining unit represented by the Technical, Professional, and Officeworkers Association of Michigan (the Union). Renner opted out of dues-paying membership with the Union in 2017. In 2018, Renner filed a complaint with his employer, alleging that a coworker smoked around him, which was injurious to his health. When Renner attempted to commence a formal grievance procedure, he was informed that only the Union could pursue the grievance procedure. The Union, however, required Renner to pay a fee for its assistance with the grievance under its pay-for-service policy for nonmembers. Renner refused to pay the fee, the Union did not provide assistance, and the deadline for pursuing the grievance expired.Renner filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) against the Union, alleging that the Union violated its duty of fair representation by refusing to represent him in a grievance with his employer unless Renner paid a fee for direct representation services. An administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled in favor of Renner, concluding that the direct service fee was not permitted under the public employment relations act (PERA) or the collective bargaining agreement and that it constituted an unfair labor practice. MERC adopted the decision of the ALJ, and the Union appealed in the Court of Appeals, which affirmed MERC’s decision.The Union sought leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, which granted the Union’s application in part. The Supreme Court held that under the 2014 version of PERA, a public sector union that is the exclusive bargaining representative of a bargaining unit violates the union’s duty of fair representation by requiring an employee in that bargaining unit who is not a member of the union to pay a fee for the union’s representative services when the union’s pay-for-service policy denies the nonmember employee access to the grievance administration process under the collective bargaining agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and the decision of MERC. View "Technical, Professional, and Officeworkers Assn v. Renner" on Justia Law

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Agnes Cramer petitioned for workers’ compensation benefits for the alleged physical and mental injuries she sustained after suffering an electrical shock and falling from a ladder while working for Transitional Health Services of Wayne, which was insured by American Zurich Insurance Company. Plaintiff claimed that as a result of the shock and fall, she injured her right shoulder and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and non-epileptic seizures. The magistrate denied benefits for plaintiff’s PTSD/non-epileptic seizure claim, finding that there was insufficient evidence that the disability was work-related. Applying the four-factor test set forth in Martin v. Pontiac Sch Dist, 2001 ACO 118, the magistrate concluded that plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proof that her employment contributed to or accelerated her mental injuries. The magistrate also denied wage-loss benefits on the basis that, although plaintiff was physically disabled from the injury to her shoulder, there was no evidence that plaintiff had made a good-faith effort to secure other employment. The Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission affirmed in part magistrate’s denial of benefits, reversing the denial of wage-loss benefits for plaintiff’s shoulder injury. Both parties appealed; the Court of Appeals denied defendants’ application for lack of merit in the grounds presented. The appeals court remanded the matter to the Board of Magistrates for a determination of whether plaintiff was entitled to a discretionary award of attorney fees on unpaid medical benefits. Plaintiff appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which granted review, limited to two issues: (1) whether the four-factor test in Martin was at odds with the principle that a preexisting condition is not a bar to eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits and conflicts with the plain meaning of MCL 418.301(2); and (2) assuming that Martin provides the appropriate test, whether the Court of Appeals erred by affirming the commission’s conclusion that the magistrate properly applied Martin. Ultimately the Court determined the magistrate erred in its application of Martin to their decision. The magistrate’s findings were vacated. The Court of Appeals judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cramer v. Transitional Health Services" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Susan Christie filed suit against Wayne State University, asserting age and disability discrimination under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (the ELCRA); and the Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (the PWDCRA). Christie took a medical leave of absence in February 2017 and returned to work on May 1, 2017. Plaintiff alleged that after her return to work, her supervisors questioned her about her age, asked her when she intended to retire, and had conversations with others in her presence regarding the ages of employees. Plaintiff received a negative job-performance review on September 22, 2017, allegedly the first negative review she had ever received, and defendant terminated her from her job on November 27, 2017. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that MCL 600.6431(1) of the Court of Claims Act (the COCA), required plaintiff to file either a verified complaint with the Court of Claims or notice of intent to file suit with the Court of Claims within one year of the accrual of her claim; defendant maintained plaintiff’s claim was barred by governmental immunity because she failed to do either. The court denied the motion, concluding that MCL 600.6431(1) did not preclude plaintiff from filing her claim in the circuit court because the COCA notice requirements only applied to claims litigated in the Court of Claims. Defendant appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals. While the Court of Appeals ultimately concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal as a matter of right, it treated the appeal as though leave had been granted and affirmed the trial court’s order in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding the trial court erred by denying defendant’s motion for summary judgment. View "Christie v. Wayne State University" on Justia Law

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Helen Jordan, a nurse who was formerly employed by the predecessor to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, challenged in the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) the decision of a magistrate that she was not entitled to disability benefits under the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA). In 1995, plaintiff was working for defendant’s predecessor when she was injured during an altercation with a patient. Plaintiff was prescribed opioid medication to treat leg and back pain that she said resulted from the 1995 injury, and she used the opioid medication continuously after the incident and became dependent upon it. Plaintiff began receiving disability benefits under the WDCA in 1996. In 2015, plaintiff underwent an independent medical examination at defendant’s request pursuant to MCL 418.385. The doctor who conducted the examination concluded that any disability experienced by plaintiff was not the result of the 1995 incident, and defendant subsequently discontinued plaintiff’s benefits. Plaintiff applied for reinstatement of her benefits under the WDCA. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the agency record was too incomplete to facilitate “meaningful” appellate review: “Despite the MCAC’s conclusion, whether the experts agreed that plaintiff had a limitation of her wage-earning capacity in work suitable to her qualifications and training was not clear from the record.” Therefore, the Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred by deciding this case as a matter of law because further administrative proceedings were needed. View "Jordan v. Dep’t. of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law

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Grant Bauserman, Karl Williams, and Teddy Broe, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, brought a putative class action in the Michigan Court of Claims against the Unemployment Insurance Agency, alleging that the Agency violated their due-process rights, and that the Agency also engaged in unlawful collection practices. Plaintiffs, who were all recipients of unemployment compensation benefits, specifically alleged defendant had used an automated fraud-detection system, the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System (MiDAS), to determine that plaintiffs had received unemployment benefits for which they were not eligible and then garnished plaintiffs’ wages and tax refunds to recover the amount of the alleged overpayments, interest, and penalties that defendant had assessed without providing meaningful notice or an opportunity to be heard. Among other remedies for this constitutional violation, plaintiffs sought monetary damages. Although the Michigan Supreme Court had never specifically held that monetary damages were available to remedy constitutional torts, the Court now held that they were. “Inherent in the judiciary’s power is the ability to recognize remedies, including monetary damages, to compensate those aggrieved by the state, whether pursuant to an official policy or not, for violating the Michigan Constitution unless the Constitution has specifically delegated enforcement of the constitutional right at issue to the Legislature or the Legislature has enacted an adequate remedy for the constitutional violation. Because enforcement of Const 1963, art 1, § 17 has not been delegated to the Legislature and because no other adequate remedy exists to redress the alleged violations of plaintiffs’ rights, we agree that plaintiffs have alleged a cognizable constitutional-tort claim for which they may recover money damages and we agree with the lower courts that defendant was properly denied summary disposition.” View "Bauserman v. Unemployment Insurance Agency" on Justia Law

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Dean McMaster brought a negligence action against DTE Energy Company, Ferrous Processing and Trading Company (Ferrous), and DTE Electric Company (DTE), seeking compensation for injuries he sustained when a metal pipe fell out of a scrap container and struck him in the leg. DTE, the shipper, contracted with Ferrous to sell scrap metal generated by its business. DTE and Ferrous moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion as to DTE but denied the motion as to Ferrous. McMaster settled with Ferrous and appealed with regard to DTE. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that DTE did not have a duty to warn of or protect McMaster from a known danger, relying on the open and obvious danger doctrine. McMaster sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court peremptorily vacated Part III of the opinion and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of DTE’s legal duty under the law of ordinary negligence. On remand, the Court of Appeals again affirmed the trial court, finding that the common-law duty of a shipper was abrogated by Michigan’s passage of MCL 480.11a, which adopted the federal motor carrier safety regulations as part of the Motor Carrier Safety Act (the MCSA). The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the common-law duty of care owed by a shipper to a driver was not abrogated by MCL 480.11a. As an issue of first impression, the Court adopted the “shipper’s exception” or “Savage rule” to guide negligence questions involving participants in the trucking industry, as this rule was consistent with Michigan law. Applying this rule, the Supreme Court affirmed on alternate grounds, the grant of summary disposition to DTE Electric Company (DTE) because there existed no genuine issue of material fact that DTE did not breach its duty to plaintiff. View "McMaster v. DTE Energy Company" on Justia Law

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The Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) brought actions against claimants Frank Lucente and Michael Herzog, respectively, to appeal the decisions of the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) that claimants were not required to pay restitution and fraud penalties under the Michigan Employment Security Act (MESA) despite the fact that they had improperly received unemployment benefits after becoming employed full-time and providing inaccurate responses to certification questions concerning their new employment. The Michigan Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals correctly held that MCL 421.62 authorized the UIA to issue original fraud and restitution determinations that were not subject to the constraints of MCL 421.32a. However, it erred by concluding that the UIA’s decision to issue “redeterminations” in these cases was of no substantive effect. "The UIA must issue an original determination alleging fraud, and its failure to do so was grounds for invalidating the 'redeterminations' in this case. On this issue, the payment of benefits cannot serve as an original 'determination' on the alleged fraud, and the UIA’s issuance of determinationless 'redeterminations' deprives claimants of their right to protest. When UIA-initiated review of a past-paid benefit results in a decision that the claimant received benefits during a period of ineligibility or disqualification and owes restitution as a result, the UIA must begin with an original 'determination' as described in MCL 421.62. The Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Michigan Unemployment Ins. Agy. v. Lucente" on Justia Law

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Two former employees of Michael Morse and his firm, Michael J. Morse, PC, sued Morse for workplace sexual harassment, including sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence, gross negligence, and wanton and willful misconduct; and civil conspiracy. In both cases, the firm moved to dismiss and compel arbitration on the basis that both women signed the firm’s Mandatory Dispute Resolution Procedure agreement (MDRPA) prior to accepting employment with the firm. The trial court granted defendants' motion in each case, concluding that the arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable and that the claims were related to the employees' employment and therefore subject to arbitration. A majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs’ claims of sexual assault were not subject to arbitration because sexual assault was not “related to” plaintiffs’ employment. Further, the Court of Appeals stated that the fact that the alleged assaults would not have occurred but for plaintiffs’ employment with the firm did not provide a sufficient nexus between the terms of the arbitration agreement and the alleged sexual assaults. "Defendants noted certain facts that supported connections between plaintiffs’ claims and their employment, including that the alleged assaults occurred at work or work-related functions. But those facts did not necessarily make plaintiffs’ claims relative to employment; rather, the facts had to be evaluated under a standard that distinguished claims relative to employment from claims not relative to employment. This analysis prevents the absurdity of an arbitration clause that bars the parties from litigating any matter, regardless of how unrelated to the substance of the agreement, and it ensures that the mere existence of a contract does not mean that every dispute between the parties is arbitrable. Neither the circuit courts nor the Court of Appeals considered this standard when evaluating defendants’ motions to compel arbitration." Rather than apply this newly adopted approach in the first instance, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Court of Appeals and remanded the cases to the circuit courts so that those courts could analyze defendants’ motions to compel arbitration by determining which of plaintiffs’ claims could be maintained without reference to the contract or employment relationship. View "Lichon v. Morse" on Justia Law

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The defendant-employer, Steel Technologies, Inc., asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider whether a medical professional’s conclusory declaration of a claimant’s total disability, without more, could provide competent, material, and substantial evidence of “disability,” as defined by the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq. The Supreme Court declined to do so because under the facts of this case, it was unnecessary to reach that issue. The Court instead vacated Part IV of the Court of Appeals’ opinion discussing the issue, but affirmed its result: the magistrate relied on competent, material, and substantial evidence to find that the plaintiff-claimant, Ahmed Omer, had established a disability and was entitled to wage-loss benefits. View "Omer v. Steel Technologies Inc." on Justia Law