Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court

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Anthony Henry and Keith White filed suit against Laborers’ Local 1191, Michael Aaron (the union’s business manager), and Bruce Ruedisueli (the union’s president), alleging that their indefinite layoff from employment at the union was unlawful retaliation under the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA). Henry and White had worked as business agents for the union until their terminations. They alleged that defendants asked several union members to repair the façade of the Trade Union Leadership Council building. The union recorded payments for the work as picket duty even though the members did not engage in picket duty on those days. Henry and White believed that Aaron was involved in criminal activity, including fraud, an illegal kickback scheme, and misappropriation of union funds. They also believed that the union had required members to work without proper safety precautions and without receiving union wages. Henry and White subsequently contacted the United States Department of Labor with their suspicions and informed the union of their decision to report the allegations. The Department of Labor investigated the allegations and referred the matter to an assistant United States attorney, who declined to intervene. Aaron later notified Henry and White that they had been indefinitely laid off from employment at the union. During the pendency of Henry and White’s action, Michael Dowdy and Glenn Ramsey (also business agents for the union) were terminated from their employment. Dowdy and Ramsey filed a separate WPA action against the union, Aaron, claiming that they had been terminated for their cooperation in the Department of Labor’s investigation and disclosing to investigators facts substantiating the allegations of criminal misconduct. Defendants moved for summary disposition in the Henry/White lawsuit and for partial summary disposition in the Dowdy/Ramsey lawsuit, alleging that the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) preempted plaintiffs’ WPA claims and that, as a result, the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear them. The court denied both motions, concluding that the WPA’s protection of an employee against an employer’s retaliatory employment actions did not contravene the LMRDA. Defendants appealed in each case, reasserting their claim of LMRDA preemption and raising the new defense that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) independently preempted the circuit court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals and affirmed in an unpublished opinion. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that neither the NLRA nor the LMRDA preempted WPA claims premised on reporting suspected criminal misconduct. The NLRA did not cover the reporting of suspected criminal misconduct, while the LMRDA does not provide a union official with discretion to cover up suspected criminal misconduct by retaliating against employees who report their allegations. However, plaintiffs’ allegations of retaliation for their reporting of improper wages and an unsafe work environment cover conduct "arguably prohibited" by the NLRA and, as a result, must be litigated exclusively before the NLRB. As such, the Court affirmed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. View "Henry v. Laborers Local 1191" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Hurticene Hardaway sued Wayne County in circuit court seeking a declaratory judgment, and claiming breach of contract and promissory estoppel in relation to the denial of certain lifetime benefits granted to certain former County employees. Plaintiff worked in the County's office of corporation counsel. The trial court concluded that due to language in the Wayne County Commission Resolution 94-903, plaintiff did not qualify for the benefits. The trial court ultimately granted the County's motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the language in question was ambiguous. In its review of the resolution in question, the Supreme Court concluded its language was not ambiguous, therefore affirming the trial court's interpretation and judgment. View "Hardaway v. Wayne County" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Robert Smitter applied for workers' compensation benefits after being injured on the job working as a firefighter for Thornapple Township. At the time of his injury, Petitioner also worked for General Motors. He earned eleven percent of his income from the township and 89 from GM. The township did not reduce its workers’ compensation obligation by coordinating Petitioner's benefits with his disability benefits under MCL 418.354(1)(b). The township sought reimbursement from the Second Injury Fund under the dual-employment provisions for the entirety of Petitioner's wage-loss benefits. The fund agreed to pay the amount it would have owed if the township had coordinated Petitioner's benefits. The township filed an application for a hearing with the Worker’s Compensation Board of Magistrates, seeking reimbursement from the fund for the uncoordinated amount. The magistrate ordered the fund to reimburse the township for 89 percent of Petitioner's uncoordinated benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appellate Commission (WCAC) affirmed. The Court of Appeals denied the fund’s application for leave to appeal. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that when the injury employment provided less than 80 percent of the employee’s wages, the fund is required to reimburse its portion of the coordinated amount of benefits. Because the Township did not coordinate in this case, the appellate court erred in its analysis. Accordingly the appellate court was reversed and the case remanded to the magistrate for further proceedings. View "Smitter v. Thornapple Township" on Justia Law

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Several union groups filed unfair labor practice complaints against Macomb County and the Macomb County Road Commission over a change in the method for calculating pension benefits. The groups argued the County lowered benefits without bargaining on the issue as required by Michigan labor law. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that disputes over terms or conditions of employment covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) are subject to arbitration through a grievance process. When the CBA grants the retirement commission discretion to use actuarial tables to establish pension benefits, the decision to change a long-standing method of calculating those benefits does not (by itself) constitute the clear and unmistakable evidence needed to overcome the CBA's coverage, nor does it create a new condition of employment that would trigger the need to bargain. As a result, none of the unfair labor practices alleged in this case could be sustained, and the remedy for this dispute should have gone through the grievance process called for in the CBA. View "Macomb County v. AFSCME Council 25 Locals 411 & 893 " on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cheryl Debano-Griffin sued Lake County and the Lake County Board of Commissioners alleging, in part, that she had been terminated from her position as the director of Lake County’s 911 department in violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA) after she raised concerns about a potentially improper transfer of county funds from the county’s ambulance account and regarding the ambulance service provided to the county. Defendants moved to dismiss. The court denied the motion, and the jury returned a verdict in plaintiff’s favor. Defendants appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for entry of an order granting summary judgment to defendants. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for consideration of an additional argument that had been raised by defendants. On remand, the Court of Appeals, held that plaintiff had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding the causation element of her claim and again reversed the trial court’s order denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that reasonable minds could differ regarding the board’s true motivation for eliminating her position and raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding causation. Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment. View "Debano-Griffin v. Lake County" on Justia Law

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The Michigan Campaign Finance Act (MCFA) prohibits a "public body" from using public resources to make a "contribution or expenditure" for political purposes. At issue in this case what whether a public school district's administration of a payroll deduction plan that collects and remits political contributions from its employees to the Michigan Education Association's political action committee violates the MCFA. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that through the administration of a payroll deduction plan that remits funds to a partisan political action committee, a school district makes both a "contribution" and âexpenditure" under the terms of the MCFA.