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  • Writer's pictureRobert Lusk

Michigan’s Supreme Court Recognizes Associational Retaliation Claims

What is associational retaliation?  The following example may help.  Employee A files a lawsuit against his Employer alleging illegal discrimination in violation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA).  Employee A then retires.  The Employer is so angry at Employee A for filing the lawsuit, the Employer fires his best friend, Employee B.  But Employee B has not engaged in any activity protected by the ELCRA.  Employee B has not filed a charge of discrimination or lawsuit alleging a violation of the ELCRA.  Nor has Employee B participated in the prosecution of Employee A’s charge of discrimination or lawsuit.  Employee B has only been Employee A’s best friend.  Does Employee B have a claim against the Employer because the Employer retaliated against him because of his association (i.e., friendship) with Employee A?

The United States Supreme Court has held that Employee B had a claim against the Employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  However, Michigan’s Court of Appeals held associational retaliation claims were not viable under the ELCRA because it was worded differently than Title VII.  Michigan’s Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision in Miller v Department of Corrections, Docket No. 164862 (May 10, 2024).  Michigan’s Supreme Court noted that the ELCRA was based on Title VII and the wording of the two statutes was similar enough they should be interpreted the same way.  Thus, after Miller, plaintiffs pursuing a claim for associational retaliation may do so under Title VII and the ELCRA.


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