Law School Case Brief
Rymal v. Baergen - 262 Mich. App. 274, 686 N.W.2d 241 (2004)
To establish causation, the plaintiff must show that his participation in activity protected by the Michigan Civil Rights Act, Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2101 et seq., was a significant factor in the employer's adverse employment action, not just that there was a causal link between the two. A causal connection can be established through circumstantial evidence, such as close temporal proximity between the protected activity and adverse actions, as long as the evidence would enable a reasonable factfinder to infer that an action had a discriminatory or retaliatory basis.
Plaintiff Penny Rymal commenced her defendants Clark Products, Inc. and Clark Foodservice, Inc., ("Clark") in 1983, and after working various capacities, was named sales manager in 1993. Defendant Herman Baergen was an employee-supervisor of Clark and had authority over Rymal. At some point during their tenure with Clark, Rymal and Baergen formed defendant MTD Systems, Inc. ("MTD"). According to Rymal, in Oct. 1999, Baergen propositioned Rymal to have a sexual relationship, and she declined. Shortly thereafter, Baergen asked Rymal to sign a noncompete agreement that would reflect a promise not to engage in any business that was competitive with Clark. Rymal did not sign the agreement. Baergen started reassigning Rymal's duties to other persons, became verbally abusive, removed Rymal's expense account, and lowered Rymal's duties to those of an administrator. Rymal filed an action in Michigan state court against all defendants, asserting claims of sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace pursuant to the Michigan Civil Rights Act ("Act"). She alleged that the request to sign the noncompete was an act of harassment and was made because of her refusal to comply with Baergen's sexual advances. On their motion, the trial court granted summary disposition in favor of defendants Baergen and MTD with respect to Rymal's claims of sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace brought pursuant to the Act. Rymal appealed.
Did the trial court properly grant Baergen and MTD summary disposition with respect to Rymal's claims of sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace?
The appellate court reversed the grant of summary disposition and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The court also noted that although Baergen could not be held individually liable for the sexual harassment claims, he could be held individually liable on the retaliation claim as Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2701 was clear that a "person" should not retaliate. Moreover, a material issue of genuine fact existed as to whether there was hostile work environment and whether there was quid pro quo harassment.
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