Discrimination northern style: 2 cases from Michigan

Ape placed at black woman’s desk.  According to the Detroit Free Press, Crystal Perry, a black woman, works for the Michigan Department of Human Services’ child support services.  Her supervisor was a white male.  Within days of Ms. Perry meeting with her supervisor to discuss why she was not promoted, a 5 foot stuffed ape was placed on top of her office cubicle.  It remained for 3 weeks.  In January, Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, after a bench trial, ruled that there was no evidence to prove that racial discrimination prevented her from being promoted.  However, the judge expressed outrage and fined DHS $1,000/day for each day the ape was on the workstation, totaling $21,000.  The judge also awarded attorney fees to be paid by DHS.  Currently, there is a class action suit pending against DHS  with almost 600 class members, alleging discrimination based on race and ethnicity.  That case is scheduled to go to trial in March.

Practice pointer.  This case is a good example of why all employees, including supervisors, should be trained about the various laws that apply in the workplace.  The presence of a stuffed ape at a black woman’s’ desk after not getting a promotion can be seen as a sign of discrimination.  It appears as if although the judge found that there was no discrimination concerning the lack of promotion, there could have been discrimination and/or a hostile work environment claim that was not made.  Training employees about questionable work place activity, including who to report it to, is essential.


Black nurse claims discrimination when patient requests no black nurses care for his baby.  In another case out of Michigan, the Christian Science Monitor reports that Tonya Battle, a black nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, sued the hospital after a white male requested that no black nurses care for his newborn baby, and the hospital granted the request. The lawsuit alleges that a note was posted on an assignment clipboard that read “No African American nurse to take care of baby”.  Ms. Battle alleges she was in the neonatal intensive care unit, when the father came in and she requested that he show her the wrist band identification provided by the hospital to parents.  He allegedly said “I need to see your supervisor”, and the supervisor he saw told Battle that the man did not want African Americans caring for his baby and that he appeared to have a swastika tattoo on his arm.  The hospital refused to comment on the situation due to its policy of not commenting on past or current litigation.


Practice pointer.  This case raises some interesting questions about tension between customers/patients and employers.  What can a customer request/demand as far as which employee provides services?  What requests can an employer deny?  These questions need to be examined and answered on a case by case basis.  As with Ms. Perry’s case,  this situation also shows why training must be done for the entire workforce. 

For more information, please contact:
Daniel J. Burnick

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