Following an eight-day jury trial in federal district court, Sommers Schwartz attorneys Tad Roumayah and Jenna Sheena, together with Attorney Charis (Lee) Williams of the Lee Legal Group, persuaded a federal jury to award $800,000 in damages to a Genesee County Road Commission (GCRC) HR Director over claims of unlawful retaliation and failure to accommodate a disability under state and federal labor laws.

The plaintiff, who is Black, reported to the GCRC’s Managing Director. Though blind in her right eye, she could work with reading and computer navigation help from a full-time administrative assistant, which was a disability accommodation granted by her employer for a period of two years. 

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff filed written complaints to the GCRC Board detailing the Managing Director’s racial discrimination and harassment against her. After the plaintiff submitted her race discrimination complaint, the Managing Director subjected her to adverse employment action by placing her on a 2-week unpaid suspension. Plaintiff then lodged another complaint of race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against the Managing Director after her suspension. In response, the Managing Director placed the plaintiff on administrative leave. 

The plaintiff brought an employment discrimination and retaliation suit in federal court, and the GCRC reinstated her back to work the next day. The retaliation continued, however, when the Managing Director refused the plaintiff’s request to fill the administrative assistant position to accommodate her visual disability after her previous assistant was promoted, which effectively removed her disability accommodation. 

At trial, the plaintiff argued that the Managing Director retaliated against her for submitting statutorily protected race discrimination complaints and that his continuing adverse treatment violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Section 1981, the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and the Michigan Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act.

The plaintiff further presented evidence that the Managing Director illegally failed to accommodate her visual disability by allowing the administrative assistant position to become vacant and refusing to fill the position, thus removing her disability accommodation in violation of the Michigan Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act.  

Of the $800,000 verdict, the jury awarded $355,000 to compensate the plaintiff for her retaliation claim and $445,000 for the failure to accommodate.