Court of Appeals reinstates employment discrimination case brought by female employees
A Genessee County Judge dismissed an employment case brought by two women who had been fired by Outdoor Adventures, Inc. Even though the women were able to present numerous statements by the firing supervisor which reflected a clear bias against women employees, the trial court had held that these statements were only "indirect" evidence of discrimination and that this indirect evidence was out-weighed by the Defendant's evidence that the women were fired because they were "low-sellers". The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision and unanimously held that the employer's statements were direct evidence of discrimination, and that a jury should decide whether the women's firing was appropriate.
The Court noted that while the Defendant claimed the women were fired solely because they had not met its sales quota, the women presented evidence that men who did not meet the sales quota were not fired. They also presented evidence that their own sales were afforded lower priority than the other sales' staff. Combined with the discriminatory statements attributable to the supervisor, the Court held that this was sufficient evidence to create a question of fact for the jury: were the women cleared out because they were females and was the sales-quota issue justification a mere pretext? There was evidence to support either interpretation, so the question was one for the jury. The Court cited an old case won by our firm, Downey v. Charlevoix Road Commission, to support its ruling on this issue.
The Defendant had also argued that since the same man allegedly hired and fired the women, the women could not prove that he was biased. The Court of Appeals recognized that the Supreme Court of Michigan has held that a "strong inference" against discrimination is created when, within a short period of time, the same decision maker both hires and fires, as it is unlikely that an improper animus would arise in a brief time period. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals held that there was a question of fact with regard to whether the terminating supervisor was actually involved in hiring the women, and the Court also noted that the "strong inference" against discrimination could be overcome by direct evidence.