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A Better Partnership
August 04, 2016

COA: Three year limitations period governs plaintiff's discrimination claims

In Major v. Village of Newberry, No. 322368, the Court of Appeals held that a three-year limitation period is applicable to recover damages for injury to a person, despite a shorter limitations period being set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights (MDCR).  Furthermore, the court held that evidence of direct statements and affidavits are sufficient for age and sex discrimination claims to survive summary disposition.
 
Plaintiff, Debra Major, was an employee of Defendant, Village of Newberry, from 2002 to 2008, and held the position of apprentice lineman in 2010 and 2011.  Plaintiff applied for the position of apprentice lineman in 2008, but the Village’s council voted not to offer her the position.  Plaintiff filed a union grievance and a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that she was denied the position for no other reason than being female.  The EEOC charge resulted with a conciliation agreement in 2010 where plaintiff agreed not to sue defendant, and she would receive the position of apprentice lineman.  Dissatisfied with her tenure as a lineman, plaintiff filed a second charge against defendant with the EEOC in July 2011, alleging sex discrimination and that she was subjected to retaliation after filing her 2008 charge.  The EEOC failed to find evidence that plaintiff was discriminated against, but informed her that she may file suit with the district court within 90 days.  Plaintiff then filed a charge with MDCR, which was dismissed on September 19, 2012, but provided plaintiff with the option to appeal within the circuit court within 30 days.  Subsequently, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant in circuit court on April 24, 2013.
 
At trial court, defendant filed a summary of disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), alleging plaintiff’s claim was time barred because she failed to file her claim within the 90-day period, and the three-year period of limitations related to injuries to persons and property under MCL 600.5805, was inapplicable.  Defendant also filed a motion under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (10) alleging that Plaintiff’s arguments were conclusory.  The trial court granted the motions.
 
The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by granting summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) based on a finding that plaintiff’s claim was time barred.  The court reasoned that the case is governed by MCL 600.5805(10), which establishes a three-year period of limitations applicable to actions to recover damages for injury to a person.  Moreover, the court acknowledged that the Michigan Supreme Court was clear that the three-year period of limitations in MCL 600.5805(10) applies to persons filing a claim under the Civil Rights Act. As a result, the court concluded that the trial court erred by granting defendant’s motion for summary disposition.
 
The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court erred by granting summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10) based on plaintiff’s age and sex discrimination claim related to not receiving adequate training or hours to advance in the apprentice lineman program.  Plaintiff presented specific comments from her supervisor that constituted ageism, and her supervisor admitted that he thought age was a relevant consideration for the position.  The court reasoned that plaintiff presented sufficient direct evidence to preserve the material question of fact as to whether age was at least a motivating factor in the decision not to offer her the required training.  Plaintiff also presented affidavits to support her claim that she was denied training on specific machinery by male employees and that her supervisor supported the refusal to train her.  The court concluded that the affidavits were not conclusory and constituted direct evidence that she was denied training and equipment because of her sex, and therefore, were sufficient to survive summary disposition.
 
In regards to three claims of sex discrimination, which alleged defendant placed plaintiff in unsafe working conditions, denied her overtime because of her sex, and created a hostile work environment based on sex discrimination, the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiff failed to prove her claims.  The court also affirmed the granting of defendant’s motion for summary disposition for retaliation, reasoning that plaintiff failed to show the causal connection between the protected activity and the asserted adverse employment action.
 
Judge Riordan, concurring in part and dissenting in part, stated that the trial court properly granted defendant’s motion for summary disposition on age discrimination because plaintiff failed to provide any evidence that she suffered an adverse employment action, or that others similarly situated and outside the protected class were unaffected by the alleged adverse conduct.  Therefore, Judge Riordan would affirm the trial court’s holding on plaintiff’s age discrimination claim.

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