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Reynolds v. Hasbany

Court of Appeals of Michigan

March 20, 2018

DEBORAH REYNOLDS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ROBERT HASBANY MD PLLC and ROBERT HASBANY, MD, Defendant-Appellees.

          Oakland Circuit Court LC No. 2016-155257-CZ

          Before: M. J. Kelly, P.J., and Jansen and Meter JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         Plaintiff, Deborah Reynolds, appeals by right the trial court's order granting summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(4) (lack of subject matter jurisdiction) in favor of defendants, Robert Hasbany, MD, PLLC, and Robert Hasbany, MD. Because the circuit court has exclusive jurisdiction under claims brought pursuant to the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), MCL 37.2101 et seq., we reverse.

         I. BASIC FACTS

         Reynolds filed a complaint alleging that defendants had violated ELCRA by discriminating against her based on her weight and by retaliating against her for engaging in protected activity related to her weight. Reynolds alleged that she worked for defendants from 2010 through 2012, during which time she lost 60 pounds. When she returned to work for defendants in 2015, she had gained most of that weight back. Reynolds alleged that Hasbany commented on the gain and told her that she had to lose the weight again. Reynolds asserted that, throughout her employment with defendants, Hasbany "regularly harassed his female employees about their weight." By way of example, Reynolds asserted that Hasbany told female employees, including Reynolds, "you gotta lose this weight, " "I'm sick and tired of these fat/big/overweight people, " "overweight people don't produce as much in the workplace, " and "you guys need to take the weight off." She alleged that Hasbany regularly required his female employees to weigh themselves in his office and then report the results to him.

         Reynolds alleged that, on August 12, 2016, she arrived at work and was told by defendants' office manager that Hasbany wanted her to weigh herself and meet him in his office. Reynolds expressed frustration at the demand and stated that she told the office manager "No, I'm not doing this today." Reynolds was allegedly advised that if she did not, she would be sent home and if she went home she could not return to work without a "doctor's note." According to Reynolds, she went to Hasbany's office and directly told him that she was not going to weigh herself, to which Hasbany responded "you either weigh in, or you get a doctor's note." Reynolds objected, noting that she could not get a doctor's note because she lacked insurance; she was also unsure about what she was supposed to get a doctor's note for because she was not sick. When Hasbany insisted that she either weigh in or get a doctor's note, Reynolds responded, "then I take it you're firing me." Reynolds then left Hasbany's office, telling her co-workers that she guessed she was fired because she did not want to weigh herself."

         On October 25, 2016, about a month after Reynolds filed her complaint, defendant's lawyer sent the following "unconditional return to work letter" to Reynolds's lawyer:

Please consider this e-mail a formal, unconditional offer to your client to return to work. She would be returning to her same position, same rate of pay, and same work hours. To accept this offer, you must notify me of your acceptance in writing (e-mail will do) by Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 by 5:00 p.m., and your client must return to work at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, November 7, 2016.

         Reynolds's lawyer sent the following reply on October 31, 2016:

I have conveyed your offer to my client, and she is understandably rejecting it. Given the circumstances of her prior employment with Dr. Hasbany, and the fact that a return to work would require that she work closely with Dr. Hasbany and potentially again endure his discriminatory, harassing and abusive conduct, it is not reasonable that she return to her former employment.

         Thereafter, on November 2, 2016, defendants moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(4), arguing that, even if Reynolds prevailed on her ELCRA claim, her maximum recovery would be $5, 280, [1] which, under MCL 600.8301(1), places her claim within the exclusive jurisdiction of the district court, not the circuit court. In response, Reynolds asserted that the circuit court has exclusive jurisdiction over civil rights claims regardless of the amount in controversy. After oral argument, the circuit court held:

From the allegations of the complaint, it appears to a legal certainty that the amount in controversy is not greater than the applicable jurisdictional limit of the Circuit Court. [Reynolds] has failed to establish ...

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