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Hudson v. City of Highland Park

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

November 22, 2019

Peter Hudson, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of Highland Park, Michigan; Derek Hillman; Makini Jackson, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: October 23, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:16-cv-12369-Stephen J. Murphy, III, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Robert L. Levi, ROBERT L. LEVI, P.C., West Bloomfield, Michigan, for Appellant.

          James W. McGinnis, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellees City of Highland Park and Derek Hillman. Paul R. Bernard, BERNARD APPELLATE LAW GROUP, Plymouth, Michigan, for Appellee Makini Jackson.

         ON BRIEF:

          Robert L. Levi, ROBERT L. LEVI, P.C., West Bloomfield, Michigan, for Appellant.

          James W. McGinnis, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellees City of Highland Park and Derek Hillman. Paul R. Bernard, BERNARD APPELLATE LAW GROUP, Plymouth, Michigan, for Appellee Makini Jackson.

          Before: SUTTON, KETHLEDGE, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

          SUTTON, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which KETHLEDGE and STRANCH, JJ., joined in part. KETHLEDGE, J. (pg. 13), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. STRANCH, J. (pp. 14-15), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

          OPINION

          SUTTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Peter Hudson fought fires for the Highland Park Fire Department for close to thirteen years. During that time, he became a person of faith. For five years, he criticized other firefighters at the station for conduct he thought immoral and harmful to their work, and they responded by criticizing his faith and belittling him in other ways. In 2015, Hudson's supervisor discovered that he had overreported his hours and discharged him. Hudson sued the city, Fire Chief Derek Hillman, and city Human Resources Director Makini Jackson, on a number of different theories. The district court dismissed some of Hudson's claims on the pleadings and most of them at summary judgment. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

         I.

         Hudson worked for the Highland Park Fire Department from 2002 to 2015. Over time, he developed a reputation for two things: being an effective firefighter and being outspoken about his Christian faith. According to Hudson, the other firefighters had reputations too-for watching pornography in communal spaces and engaging in extra-marital affairs at the fire station. All of this created tension. He criticized their behavior, and they responded with disrespectful comments about his religious practices and sexual orientation. The back and forth went on for five years.

         Things changed in 2015, when Hudson's supervisors, Chief Derek Hillman and Human Resources Director Makini Jackson, learned that he had claimed extra "Fire Engine Operator" hours on his time sheet. Hudson responded that any misreporting was a mistake. The department suspended Hudson without pay pending an investigation.

         Hudson sought help from his union representatives. At the time, the Highland Park firefighters had a two-layer collective bargaining agreement with the city. They had allowed the Police Officers Association of Michigan, a much larger union, to bargain on their behalf with the city. But the agreement gave the station rights to elect local officers who would be responsible for day-to-day management of union affairs. Both levels initially came to Hudson's aid. A local union officer attended Hudson's suspension meeting. And the statewide union filed a grievance with the city challenging Hudson's suspension. Hillman denied the grievance.

         The denial triggered the next phase of the grievance procedure, a "Step 2" meeting in which the employer, employee, and union discuss the issue. Minutes into the meeting, the city added a claim of wrongdoing. Hillman learned that Hudson had not just overreported his hours but had engaged in "double-dipping"-reporting that he had worked a shift for two different employers for the same hours. Hudson conferred with his union representatives who told him to ...


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