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Henderson v. City of Flint

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

May 9, 2019

Natasha Henderson, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Flint, Defendant.

          ORDER REGARDING JURY INSTRUCTIONS

          Sean F. Cox United States District Court Judge

         Following her termination as City Administrator, Plaintiff Natasha Henderson filed this action against the City of Flint and its Mayor, asserting multiple claims. Henderson's only remaining claim is her claim against the City that she was wrongfully terminated in violation of Michigan's Whistleblower's Protection Act, Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.362 et seq. (“WPA”). That sole claim proceeded to a jury trial that began on May 1, 2019. The parties have agreed upon the majority of the jury instructions but have a dispute as to three requested jury instructions.

         1. Causation Under WPA

         First, with respect to the causation jury instruction, they disagree as to what instruction is appropriate.

         Henderson contends that Michigan Model Civil Jury Instruction 107.03, titled “Whistleblowers' Protection Act: Causation, ” is the proper jury instruction as to causation.

         Henderson asserts that, as applied here, the instruction should read as follows:

When I use the term “because of” I mean that protected activity must be one of the motives or reasons defendant discharged the plaintiff. Protected activity does not have to be the only reason, or even the main reason, but it does have to be one of the reasons that made a difference in defendant's decision to discharge the plaintiff.
In order to prove causation, plaintiff must show that a decision-maker or person who influenced the decision knew of plaintiff's protected activity. Knowledge may be shown by direct evidence or circumstantial evidence.

(Joint Proposed Jury Instructions at 22).

         The City contends that standard jury instruction is no longer good law, as to the first sentence of the instruction, and asserts that the causation instruction should be modified to read as follows:

When I use the term “because of” I mean that the alleged protected activity must be the “but for” cause of her discharge. In other words, Plaintiff must show that her discharge would not have occurred in the absence of her alleged protected activity.
In order to prove causation, plaintiff must show that a decision-maker or a person who influenced the decision knew of plaintiff's protected activity. Knowledge may be shown by direct evidence or circumstantial evidence.

(Id. at 23).

         In support of its position, the City notes that the standard jury instruction at issue was last amended in 2004 and that it relies on Hazle v. Ford Motor Co., 464 Mich. 456 (2001). The City notes that the instruction and Hazle predate the United States Supreme Court's decision in University of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338 (2013), wherein the ...


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