The Michigan Supreme Court has weighed in on an employer retaliation case that dates back seven years. It involves a former high school art teacher who had been teaching in the district for nearly 30 years.
The teacher claimed that Jackson Public Schools (JPS) transferred her out of Jackson High School to a middle school after she reported in 2015 that a student assaulted her. The teacher, who had always received excellent reviews, was rated “ineffective” in a review after the incident and given the lowest rating of “one” – something a union representative said she’d never seen before.
The teacher sued under the state Whistleblowers’ Protection Act
The teacher sued JPS, claiming that the school district violated Michigan’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act by first placing her on administrative leave and then assigning her to teach art to sixth-grade students.
The incident involved a disciplinary issue with the student, who allegedly struck or pushed her hand. She reported the incident to police and obtained a protection order against the student.
The jury in her whistleblower retaliation case awarded her over $388,000 in damages in 2018. JPS appealed the case, but Michigan’s Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the jury’s decision. The appellate court ruled that the evidence presented by the plaintiff “supported an inference that (JPS’) employment actions were taken because it was upset about her decisions to report the assault to the police and to pursue the PPO within the court system.”
Supreme Court was “not persuaded”
The Michigan Supreme Court justices determined last month after listening to both sides present arguments that they were “not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this court.” One justice told the JPS attorneys that “you lost the trial court, you lost at the Court of Appeals, and now you’re ultimately here…The jury found that ultimately you had a teacher that was assaulted. The jury then found that this teacher was then sent to teach a lower school.”
This case is somewhat different than many whistleblower retaliation cases. However, it’s important to understand that some employers would prefer to deal with issues that occur in the workplace internally. When someone reports alleged criminal activity to the authorities, they may respond by penalizing the employee who reported it. It’s crucial to know your rights and to seek legal guidance if you believe they’ve been violated.