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Detroit Lions face employment discrimination suit

Recent news has covered an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Detroit Lions of the National Football League. A former community affairs staffer for the Detroit Lions is suing the company, alleging that she was passed up for a promotion and terminated for illegal reasons related to age and gender.

The employee is a 49-year-old resident of Dearborn, Michigan. The woman’s suit alleges age and gender discrimination under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. This anti-discrimination law was written and passed in 1976. It prohibits employers from discriminating based on factors such as religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight and marital status.

Michigan’s anti-discrimination law applies to all Michigan employers. Under federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. As opposed to Michigan’s broader coverage, Title VII applies only to employers with 15 or more employees. Similarly, the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against employees who are 40 years old or more working for employers with 20 or more workers.

Discriminatory actions

Under Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, not all adverse actions or decisions by an employer constitute employment discrimination. The law addresses any decision that has a significantly unfavorable impact on the employee and is based on one of the protected factors. Unfavorable employment decisions may include the following:

  • Failing to hire or promote a worker
  • Firing an employee
  • Demoting an employee
  • Reducing an employee’s pay or benefits

These are just some examples. Such an action is not always illegal – only when it is based on a protected characteristic. For instance, an employer has the right to fire you for poor work performance if not based on one of the protected factors.

The Detroit Lions case

In the recent case, the woman was appointed as interim director of community affairs in 2011 after the previous director retired.

When the position opened, the woman applied. She submitted letters of recommendation from colleagues and outside organizations. Nevertheless, the position was awarded to a different candidate.

The employee claims she was offered a transitional package, which encouraged and accelerated her departure from the position. She asserts that in her opposition to leaving the job, the company treated her unfairly – especially in comparison to younger male employees.

Furthermore, the complaint alleges that the older, female employee was denied a raise while the younger male employees were granted them. In time, the woman was laid off; however, it is currently unknown whether the employment decision was based on a performance issue or some other factor.

The Detroit Lions recently made a statement regarding the case: “We believe it to be baseless and will vigorously and appropriately defend our position.”

The employee seeks damages exceeding $25,000.

Employment discrimination does happen, but this does not mean that an adverse action toward an employee is always illegal. If you are facing an employment discrimination matter at your company, you may want speak to a knowledgeable employment law attorney about your case.