This may be premature speculation, but it appears the Michigan Department of Civil Rights - the agency responsible for handling charges of discrimination against Michigan employers - has slightly revised its claims handling procedures.
Employment Discrimination Claims and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights
Specifically, an employee or job applicant may file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights offices if the alleged act of discrimination occurred within the past 180 days. The Department is responsible for investigating such claims and enforcing Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). This statute prohibits discrimination against an employee or job applicant based upon that person’s race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, or marital status; sex discrimination includes sexual harassment or discrimination based on pregnancy.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator often prepared a report containing detailed factual findings, even if the investigation did not disclose sufficient evidence to support the claimant’s allegations. In such an instance, the claimant would be issued a "Notice of Disposition and Order of Dismissal."
Michigan Department of Civil Rights and its Discrimination Investigation Process
However, recently I've been receiving rather "vanilla" findings that are more similar to those issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when it closes a discrimination charge and issues a right to sue letter. And in one of the discrimination charges I was handling, opposing counsel also confirmed the same. Specifically, the following excerpt Michigan Department of Civil Rights
Based upon all the evidence in the file, e.g. any applicable statements of witnesses, analysis of comparatives and review of documents, the department determined that there is insufficient evidence to proceed.
The dismissal by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights does not restrict the employee who filed the claim from pursuing discrimination claims in court. But the apparent change in the department's policy can have a practical impact with respect to settlement negotiations.
What Changes May Mean to Employers and Employees
From an employer's perspective, opening up a detailed finding from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights setting forth why a claim of employment discrimination was found to have no merit was like opening up presents on Christmas day - exciting (in a geeky, employment attorney kind of way)! Conversely, no plaintiff's attorney wants to spend time and effort on a case riddled with the equivalent of legal and evidentiary potholes.
So when these issues were identified in the findings, they provided significant leverage for negotiating a resolution favorable to the employer. And while no employer wants to make it a business practice of paying out on questionable claims, there are certainly cost savings to be explored in resolving employment discrimination claims prior to a lawsuit being filed.
While I certainly appreciate my anecdotal observations about the apparent change in the claim an investigation process by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights may not provide a scientifically relevant data set, it is something that we will continue to monitor and employers and employees involved in charges of employment discrimination should be aware of.
For more information about federal or Michigan employment discrimination, including responding to EEOC or state agency discrimination charges, contact Jason Shinn who is a Michigan employment law attorney. Mr. Shinn routinely represents clients with respect to complying with employment related laws and, if necessary, handling charges of employment discrimination.