Monday, July 13, 2009

COA Rules for Plaintiff in Civil Rights Act Case

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued a published opinion dealing with Michigan’s Civil Rights Act that could have significant impact on the availability of certain causes of action not confined only to the prisoner/jailer relationship. In Hamed v Wayne County Plaintiff was in custody of Wayne County deputy sheriffs who transported her to Wayne County Jail. Deputy Johnson was alone on duty in the male registry area of the jail. Jail regulations required attendance of a female deputy in the presence of female inmates. However, upon being contacted, Sgt. Dawash permitted the deputies to leave plaintiff alone with Johnson.
The Plaintiff alleged that Johnson subjected her to unwanted sexual conduct in circumstances that suggested that her treatment as an inmate would depend on whether she submitted to that conduct. Johnson then directed her into a private office where he sexually assaulted plaintiff. Johnson was subsequently convicted of criminal sexual conduct.
The trial court erred in granting summary disposition for defendants in this case arising from violations of Michigan Civil Rights Act (“CRA”) on the ground that defendant Wayne County’s employee acted outside the scope of his authority when he sexually assaulted the plaintiff. The court of appeals held that strict vicarious liability for employers is applicable in quid pro quo sexual harassment arising from the provision of public accommodations and public services, when the harassment consists of a sexual assault.
The Plaintiff claimed that Wayne County was liable for Johnson’s actions under the theory of respondeat superior. However, the trial court granted summary disposition for defendants with respect to plaintiff’s claims for quid-pro-quo sexual harassment on the ground that Johnson acted outside the scope of his authority when he sexually assaulted the plaintiff and thus Wayne County and the department could not be found liable under a theory of respondeat superior
A plaintiff claiming quid-pro-quo harassment in the context of public accommodations must show that the provider of those services or accommodations, or the provider’s agent, used her submission to, or rejection of, the unwanted conduct as a factor in a decision affecting the plaintiff’s access to the public or accommodations.
In Champion v Nation Wide Security, 450 Mich 702 (1996), the Supreme Court adopted the view that imposes strict liability on employers for quid-pro-quo sexual harassment committed by supervisory personnel. The Court held that a supervisor’s sexual assault of a subordinate employee is a form of quid-pro-quo sexual harassment, and that the employer is strictly liable for the supervisor’s conduct only where the assault is accomplished through the use of the supervisor’s managerial, or supervisory powers.
The court held that the strict liability analysis of Champion was applicable to the circumstances presented in this case, finding that Johnson did not merely use his position to find opportunities to commit a sexual assault against plaintiff, rather he used his authority as a turnkey to exploit her sexually. Therefore, plaintiff’s amended complaint plead facts sufficient to support a claim that Johnson’s managerial authority was instrumental and integral tool in perpetrating the sexual assault.
Submitted by Andy Dragovic, Associate Attorney,
Flood, Lanctot, Connor & Stablein, PLLC

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