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Court of Appeals upholds retaliatory termination verdict against Department of Corrections

Delores Rankin-Crosby served as an administrative assistant at Muskegon Correctional Facility where she was the discriminatory harassment coordinator.  She emailed the Department of Corrections' equal employment office with a complaint after observing the Warden, Michael Curley, berate Deputy Warden Sharon Walker. The warden reacted by claiming that he had not cursed at Walker at the Staff Meeting and that Rankin-Crosby had filed a false report.  He met with other meeting participants prior to the DOC's "investigation," and the underlings subsequently denied any improper comment by their boss.  Curley then fired Rankin-Crosby for filing a false report.

Rankin-Crosby sued, alleging that she was fired in retaliation for filing a report of improper harassment.  The jury believed the plaintiff and awarded her about $240,000.00 in damages.  The DOC appealed.  It argued that the verdict was unproven and that in any event the Warden's comment was not illegal harassment because it was "racially and gender neutral."  It also objected to the award of attorneys' fees.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict but did take away that share of fees reflecting the work of summer associate attorneys.  One of the three judges wrote a separate opinion analyzing the case differently than the majority, although all three agreed that the judgment was sound.

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