- The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reversed a decision by a Michigan district court that granted summary judgment to the University of Michigan in an employee’s retaliation case. The case, Joshua Zarza v. Board of Regents of the University of Michigan, can go to trial, the circuit court ruled.
- In the case, a former custodial supervisor, now deceased, alleged she was fired after supporting an employee who said he was discriminated against and later fired because of his disability. The supervisor had worked for the university for 14 years with a “clean record” but was fired one month after complaints were filed about her by her subordinates, the court said. “A jury could find their haste suspicious,” the judgment reads.
- “A jury must decide whether the University acted with legitimate or retaliatory motives,” the circuit court concluded.
In order to prove retaliation, an employee needs to prove pretext, which can be a challenge.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear a case in which two White former Michigan State Police officers alleged they were retaliated against for challenging the department’s diversity initiative. Their employer, the Michigan State Police, said the former officers were disciplined over misconduct in handling a transfer.
The district court ruled: “The court concludes that the defense has provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Plaintiffs’ disciplines, and Plaintiffs have not shown those reasons were pretext for unlawful retaliation.”
In the University of Michigan case, the circuit court said, “A jury could find that the University’s proffered reason — [the supervisor’s] alleged mistreatment of her colleagues — served as a pretext for retaliation.”
In April, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Honda didn’t retaliate against a recruiter who took intermittent leave for anxiety and depression under the Family and Medical Leave Act after her father died. While she was on leave, the company allegedly found shortcomings in her work, shifted her job duties and temporarily suspended her ability to work remotely. Her retaliation case failed because she couldn’t show there was a materially adverse action, since her salary, benefits and job title and level were not affected.