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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Octogenarian bailiffs fail to convince Michigan court they were fired because of age, disabilities

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Sep 18, 2019

Judge Jane M. Beckering

LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) – An appeal filed by two former bailiffs for Michigan's 36th District Court against the court over allegations of age and disability discrimination has failed.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment from the 36th District Court in the Estate of Thornton Jackson Jr. and Jeremiah Weatherly’s case against it.

"Plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred in granting defendant summary disposition of their claims for discrimination based on their disabilities and their age. We disagree," judges Jane M. Beckering, David H. Sawyer and Thomas C. Cameron wrote in the per curiam Sept. 3 ruling.

Weatherly and Jackson, via his personal representative Lois Jackson, accused the district of violating the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) when it fired them in 2016. They had been working as bailiffs for more than 30 years. 

They were also two of three bailiffs and were in their 80s. The third bailiff, Robert Rhue, is not a party in this lawsuit. The bailiffs in the district usually held their position until they retired, they died, or they were removed for “misfeasance or malfeasance in office,” according to the opinion.

Chief Judge Nancy Blount determined they were no longer fit to serve and terminated them in 2016. Her decision followed a letter from Dr. Vanessa Robinson, who said that Jackson wasn’t fit to complete the job responsibilities as a bailiff. 

She pointed out that his examination was “remarkable for the continuous use of oxygen by nasal cannula and abnormal lung findings,” according to the ruling. She also discovered that Weatherly’s physical exam was unremarkable, but that he had problems seeing, slow reaction time and poor scanning skills.

“Because plaintiffs’ disabilities, with or without accommodation, prevent them from performing the duties of bailiff, they are not disabled for purposes of the People With Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA) and, therefore, they are not entitled to its protections,” the ruling states.

The plaintiffs also argued that if the District Court thought they were disabled, it should have spoken to them about possible accommodations, as explained in the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, they filed the lawsuit via the PWDCRA, not the ADA. If they would have filed the lawsuit under the latter, they still would had to prove they qualify for protection with that statute as well, the judges said.

"Plaintiffs having failed to prove that they are disabled for purposes of the PWDCRA, there is no reason to think that they could establish that they are 'qualified individuals' under the ADA,"' the ruling states.

As for the claims that the district violated the ELCRA and fired them after the district’s Human Resources Director Carolyn Bogerty sent them to get medical examinations “because they are old,” the judges noted that there’s no proven connection between Bogerty allegedly calling the plaintiffs old and the plaintiffs actually getting fired.  

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