Michigan Supreme Court Rules Friends Are Protected from Retaliation Under State’s Civil Rights Law - American Society of Employers - Michael Burns

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Michigan Supreme Court Rules Friends Are Protected from Retaliation Under State’s Civil Rights Law

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled last Friday that the friends of an employee who also work at the same place are protected from retaliation by the employer.  Following similar protections found under the federal civil rights act under Title VII, the Michigan Court found that Michigan’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act also permits workers to bring third party, or associational, retaliation claims if they think the employer targeted them to punish a coworker for bringing a claim under that law.

In this case the plaintiffs were close friends of an employee that brought a whistleblower claim against the Michigan Department of Corrections. Their lawsuit claims they were fired due to their “extremely” close relationship with the couple that brought the whistleblower suit against the Department of Corrections.

The ruling by the Supreme Court overturns a ruling for the State Department of Corrections by the Michigan Appeals Court. The Appeals Court held that the employer did not retaliate against the employee because the friends did not aid or participate in the activity that they had alleged retaliation for. The Supreme Court found that it did not matter whether the party was an active participant in the activity being retaliated against, only that there could be a causal link between the adverse action and the protected act. The Plaintiffs in this case stated that they gave the whistleblowing employees any help with their complaint.

The Supreme Court’s decision sends the case back to the lower court to determine if factually there was enough correlation between the whistleblower complainant and the friends to establish that retaliatory discrimination was the cause of the firing. There does not have to be a direct romantic or familial relationship between the complainant party and the person who was retaliated against to establish illegal discrimination occurred.  There just has to be a causal link between the unfavorable employment action and the protected act. The Court said, “When the relationship is close, that is likely to be persuasive evidence of the requisite causal link. The more remote a relationship, the more difficult it will be to prove a sufficient causal link…. that is a matter to be resolved on a [motion of summary disposition] or before a jury.”


Source: Law360 Employment Authority. Mich. Justices Find State Law Bars Firing Friend as a Reprisal. (5/10/2024)


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