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A Better Partnership
April 04, 2014

A group of male minority employees of the Department of Human Services did not establish the prerequisites to bring an employment discrimination suit as a class action

The case of Duskin v. Department of Human services continues its now eight-year journey through the courts.  This case arises from a group of minority males who filed a complaint, in 2006, alleging employment discrimination against their employer, the Department of Human Services.  The plaintiffs sought to certify a class action, and the trial court initially certified the class.  The Court of Appeals, however, reversed that certification.  Following that decision, the Michigan Supreme Court, in another case rejected the "rigorous analysis" standard that had been used by the Court of Appeals and, therefore, vacated the Court of Appeals ruling and remanded the matter to the trial court.  On remand, the trial court once again certified the class.  In a decision released on April 1, 2014, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court once again, and concluded that the plaintiffs had not established the prerequisites for class certification.  Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that the plaintiffs did not meet any of the five necessary criteria of numerosity, commonality, typicality, adequacy and superiority.  

To begin with, the Court of Appeals considered whether the class was so numerous as to render joinder impracticable.  The Court noted that although the class consisted of 586 individuals, there was no evidence that they had all been denied the opportunity for promotions.  The Court concluded that because the proponent of a class must establish that a sizable number of the class suffered an actual injury, and that because such evidence was not presented here, the trial court clearly erred in finding that plaintiffs satisfied the numerosity requirement.  Similarly, the Court rejected the trial court's conclusion the common questions of law or fact predominate over individual questions because the suit would require proof of different types of discrimination by different actors and through different methods.  For this reason, the Court of Appeals held that the proponent could not establish commonality, or that a class action was a superior method of adjudicating the dispute.  The Court of Appeals also concluded that the representatives were not typical of the class of all minority males because the representatives were those that had been denied the opportunity at a leadership program, and access to that program was only one of the alleged discriminatory actions involving the class.  The Court of Appeals rejected the trial court's conclusion that the class representatives were adequate because that determination was based upon the proponent's allegations regarding the qualification of class counsel and that a statement of a united goal to end discrimination was not enough to show a lack of conflicting interests amongst the class.  Based on this analysis, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court clearly erred in certifying the class and reversed that certification.  Judge Krause filed a concurring opinion noting that plaintiffs had not established that every member of the class had an objective basis for being included in the class, because it is impossible to distinguish between those that did not seek advancement because of alleged discrimination, and those that did not seek advancement in the Department for other reasons.

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