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A Better Partnership
September 18, 2015

MSC: Court to review judgment in favor of teacher who made racial “joke” in a third-grade classroom

The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal in Hecht v. National Heritage Academies, Inc., No. 150616, where the Court of Appeals held that the defendant employer committed racial discrimination when it terminated a white male teacher after he made a racial joke in a classroom full of third graders. The plaintiff argued that he was fired for participating in “racial bantering” that was tolerated from African American employees.
                                                                                                             
The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff on the grounds that the defendant violated the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, MCL 37.2201 et seq., when it used race as a substantial factor in the decision to terminate the plaintiff’s employment.
 
The Court ordered the parties to address whether the Court of Appeals erred: (1) when it found sufficient direct evidence of racial discrimination on the basis of a witness’s interpretation of what was said to her, rather than what was actually said; (2) when it concluded that the burden-shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green was not applicable on review of a jury verdict; and (3) when it held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence showing that the defendant employer had to disclose information related to incidents of unprofessional conduct to the plaintiff’s potential new employers under MCL 380.1230b.
 
Warner Norcross & Judd represents National Heritage Academies in this appeal.

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