Leavy v. City of Detroit, 2012 WL 752328 (2012)

Parties:

Plaintiff- Kathleen Leavy

Defendant- City of Detroit, Marilyn Atkins

Procedural History:

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Issues:

  1. Was the plaintiff’s termination a violation of her First Amendment rights?
  2. Was the plaintiff’s termination the result of reverse discrimination?

Holding:

  1. There is less constitutional protection for speech when the comments are made in a person’s official capacity and, therefore, there was was no First Amendment violation.
  2. The plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination.

Facts:

Plaintiff, a white woman, was appointed to Interim Corporation Counsel to the mayor, who is African American.  During a conference call to discuss the payment of a settlement, the plaintiff commented that the 36th District Court was “ghetto”.  This comment angered many within the court and threatened the relationship between the mayor’s office and law enforcement.  After several meetings and the plaintiff resigning, the plaintiff rescinded her resignation and brought a First Amendment suit and reverse discrimination suit.

Reasoning:

As to the First Amendment claim, the court found that since the plaintiff was speaking within her official capacities and not as an ordinary citizen, she was not subject to the same constitutional protections.

With regard to the discrimination claim, typical, the burden shifts between the different parties.  The plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The defendant must then give a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the action.  Finally, the plaintiff must show that the reason given is a pretense for discrimination.  With reverse discrimination the burden shift is the same, but the showing of a prima facie case is slightly different.  The plaintiff must show (1) that “background circumstances exist to support the suspicion that the defendant is the unusual employer that discriminates against the majority;” (2) that Plaintiff “was qualified for the job;” (3) that Plaintiff “suffered an adverse employment decision;” and (4) that Plaintiff was “treated differently than similarly situated non-protected employees.” The court found that the plaintiff satisfied the first three prongs, but there was no evidence to suggest that a minority employee in the same situation would be treated any differently.

Ruling:

Affirmed.

 

 

By: John Brosnan

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