Trial Court and the Appeal – A tale of two discrimination findings
In the case, Patten v City of Ann Arbor, the plaintiff sued her former employer and supervisors for discrimination under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) & Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (CRA). She made two claims:
- Discrimination against her on the basis of her sex in making several decisions about her employment status; and
- They retaliated against her for complaining that their “promotion process inherently favored males and discriminated against females.”
The trial court denied the defendants’ motion for summary disposition and they appealed. On appeal, the Court reversed in favor of the defendants.
No discrimination or retaliation on Appeal
In reaching this decision, the Court went through all the reasons why the trial court erred and defendants were entitled to summary disposition on the sex discrimination claim. These reasons included:
- Assuming plaintiff established a prima facie “case of discrimination, [she] failed to rebut defendants’ evidence of legitimate non-discriminatory” reasons.
- “The trial court erred by not shifting the burden back to plaintiff to prove that defendants’ legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons were a mere pretext for sex discrimination.” Further on this point, the Court noted, the plaintiff failed to show that defendants’ “reasons had no basis in fact.”
- Plaintiff failed to rebut defendants’ legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for their adverse employment decisions, and the trial court simply substituted its speculation regarding defendants’ motives to infer that sex discrimination motivated defendants’ decisions.”
The court also found that defendants were entitled to summary disposition on the retaliation claim. The Court concluded there was no evidence linking her protected activity to defendants’ adverse employment actions.
Also, the Court noted that even if she had made out her prima facie “case of retaliation, [her] performance record, which included multiple concerns by several officers regarding plaintiff’s ability to fulfill the duties assigned her in various positions, provides a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for defendants’ employment decisions, which plaintiff has offered no evidence to rebut.”
Closing thoughts on employment discrimination claims.
As this case illustrates, there are numerous ways in which an employer can successfully defeat an employment discrimination claim. It also illustrates the significant hurdle a plaintiff must overcome. Specifically, the employer’s reasons for the adverse employment decision were not the actual factors motivating the employer’s decisions or that the reasons lacked sufficiency to justify their decisions.
For more information about federal or Michigan employment law, contact attorney Jason Shinn. Since 2001, he has represented businesses and individuals in employment discrimination lawsuits.