We previously reported about a lawsuit filed against Oakland University by its former women’s basketball coach Beckie Francis. Essentially that lawsuit involved Oakland University’s decision to withhold from production of certain employee records concerning Ms. Francis, which were requested pursuant to Michigan’s Bullard-Plawecki Employee Right to Know Act.
Following our coverage of this employment dispute, the Detroit News reported that a judge hearing the employment lawsuit issued an order in favor of the employee and against Oakland University, including paying the employee’s attorney fees.
Employer Produced Redacted Documents
The University, through its legal counsel Robert Boonin of Butzel Long, had taken the position that portions of certain records, specifically an investigation report, were exempt from production under the statute. In this regard, the University originally produced a redacted report.
Ms. Francis, however, claimed that the report was too heavily redacted and what was produced did not provide her with the context to assess the just cause issue of her firing.
Court Agreed Certain Redactions Appropriate, But Still Ordered Employer to Pay
In resolving this legal dispute the Court (Hon. Martha D. Anderson) determined that some of the University’s redactions were appropriate, including redactions to remove specific names of individuals other than Francis and its mental impressions protected by attorney-client privilege … as well as staff planning information.”
But the Detroit News further reported that despite this finding, legal counsel for Oakland University was unable to convince the Court that the University should not be required to pay Ms. Francis’ costs and attorney fees, which have yet to be determined.
The Take-Away for Michigan Employers
For Michigan employers this lawsuit is an important reminder of the importance of properly responding to an employee’s request for that employee’s personnel file. Failing to comply with such a request or making the wrong decision about what is withheld from production can expose the employer to having to pay costs and attorney fees, as was the result in Ms. Francis’ lawsuit against Oakland University.
For more information about complying with Michigan employment laws, including how to properly respond to an employee or former employee’s request for their personnel file, feel free to contact Jason Shinn. Mr. Shinn is a Michigan employment attorney and since 2001, he has addressed employment legal issues under federal and Michigan employment laws.