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Emery v. Michigan Department of Civil Rights

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 28, 2017

SHERYL EMERY, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Sheryl Emery alleges that defendant the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, her former employer, and its employees, defendants Matthew Wesaw and Lori Vinson, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. This matter is presently before the Court on Wesaw's and Vinson's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 32). Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall rule without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, born in 1959, is a deaf, African American women. She served as the Director of the Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing from November 16, 2008, to September 9, 2014. The Director position has been filled by a deaf or hard of hearing individual since the Division's inception. The Division's staff is comprised of deaf and hearing individuals; some of whom are not fluent in American Sign Language. For several years, the Division included a staff member who served as an interpreter. As director, plaintiff was required to follow rules governing the MDCR's authority, her own legal authority, and ethical standards including Civil Service rules and the State Ethics Act.

         Amanda Niven worked as a Rights Representative at the Division with plaintiff. Niven's responsibilities included some duties as a staff interpreter. Niven made several accusations against plaintiff between April and May 2013. The MDCR investigated and, in July 2013, concluded that, contrary to Niven's complaints, plaintiff had not created a hostile work environment.

         Plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint against Niven with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. As a result, Niven's certification was suspended and she ceased performing interpreter duties. Plaintiff complained about her inability to complete her responsibilities without an interpreter on staff. She eventually filed an EEOC charge, alleging failure to accommodate, on this matter on July 29, 2013.

         Niven and Karlee Rose Gruetzner, another Rights Representative, raised new complaints against plaintiff in February 2014. The MDCR thereafter began investigating plaintiff for creating a hostile work environment, harassment, workplace bullying, interpreter issues, and breach of confidentiality. (Doc. 32-3 at PagelD 297). Plaintiff was placed on administration suspension with pay pending the results of this investigation. In May 2014, Vinson discovered that plaintiff had created and distributed Alternative Pathways Certification/Board Evaluation of Interpreters applications. (Doc. 32-12 at PagelD 383). This activity was unauthorized. The investigation concluded in September 2014. The MDCR found that plaintiff subjected her staff to harassment, created a hostile work environment, retaliated against her subordinate, and implemented certification without legal authorization. (Doc. 32-3 at PagelD 325). Plaintiff's actions violated the MDCR's authority, her own legal authority under Public Act 204, Civil Service rule 2-8 and the State Ethics Act. Plaintiff was terminated on September 9, 2014.

         Plaintiff filed a grievance to challenge her termination. (Doc. 32-6). She alleged that she was terminated without just cause, as she had not violated the Civil Service rules as the MDCR claimed. She further argued that she was terminated in retaliation for filing her EEOC charge. The MDCR denied plaintiff's allegations and asserted that she was terminated for violating the Civil Service rules. (Doc. 32-7). Plaintiff appealed the MDCR's answer. (Doc. 32-8).

         A grievance appeal hearing was held by Hearing Officer Matthew C. Wyman on April 27, 28 and June 24, 2015. (Doc. 32-9). Wesaw testified that plaintiff's issues with harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation, in isolation could have been corrected through lesser discipline. (Doc. 32-9 at PagelD 350). But Wesaw found plaintiff's APC violation to be far more serious and believed that this matter alone justified termination, as plaintiff had deceived the MDCR while knowingly disregarding the law. (Id.). On October 1, 2015, Wyman issued an opinion concluding that the MDCR had just cause to terminate plaintiff following her mistreatment of Niven and Gruetzner as well as violating the MDCR's authority, Public Act 204, the State Ethics Act, and Civil Service rule 2-8. (Doc. 32-9).

         Plaintiff appealed. The Employment Relations Board issued a recommended grievance decision affirming Wyman's findings on January 27, 2016. (Doc. 32-10). The Civil Service Commission adopted the Board's recommendation as their final decision on February 26, 2016. (Doc. 32-11). Plaintiff appealed to Oakland County Circuit Court. On October 3, 2016, the Honorable Martha D. Anderson issued an opinion affirming the final decision of the Commission. (Doc. 32-12). Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit alleging her termination on April 22, 2015.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 56(c) empowers a court to render summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Williams v. Mehra, 186 F.3d 685, 689 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is "'whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Amway Distrib. Benefits Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). Mere allegations or denials in the non-movant's pleadings will not meet this burden, nor will a mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 252. There must instead be evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the non-movant. McLean, 224 F.3d at 800 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).The evidence and all reasonable inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Bee. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001).

         III. Analysis

         A. Prospective Injunctive Relief

         Plaintiff's Ex Parte Young claim against state officials acting in their official capacity may "seek prospective relief to end a continuing violation of law." Carten v. Kent State Univ.,282 F.3d 391, 395 (6th Cir. 2002). Defendants assert that the only prospective injunctive relief available to plaintiff is an "order requiring the State to provide her a reasonable accommodation." (Doc. 32 at PagelD 267-68). Plaintiff no longer works for the Michigan Civil Rights Department. Defendants thus conclude that her claim for prospective relief is moot. Defendant's ...

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