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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Michigan Bell Telephone Co. worker failed to prove he was a victim of racial discrimination in suit, court rules

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Oct 24, 2019


LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) – Michigan Bell Telephone Co. prevailed once again in a worker’s racial discrimination lawsuit against it.

The Genesse Circuit Court first granted the company summary disposition in Thomas Toles’ claim. The Michigan Court of Appeals then affirmed the judgment on Oct. 10.

Toles sued via the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) stating that he was discriminated against because of his African-American race while working at the defendant's Flint, Michigan, facility. The company was granted summary disposition by the Genesee Circuit Court after it noted that Toles failed to establish a prima facie claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. 

Judges James Robert Redford, Kathleen Jansen and Anica Letica sat on the panel. 

“Here, plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination because there was no evidence that he suffered the adverse employment action under circumstances that give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. As an initial matter, plaintiff did not assert that he had direct evidence of discrimination,” said the three-judge panel.

While Toles said he was suspended for one day in 2014 for misuse of company time, the court ruled he didn’t prove that it was because of illegal discrimination. He also didn’t point out Caucasian employees in the same situation. 

Even though he noted a Caucasian worker who was given a new work vehicle and training on new work practices after he returned from disability leave, this doesn’t prove that the colleague didn’t comply with company policy and was given the perks in light of it, the ruling states.

Toles also pointed to other alleged instances, like the same worker breaking company property but not being punished, a Caucasian technician bringing a gun on site who was suspended for five days but not fired, a worker who masturbated in his work vehicle who wasn’t fired, and an employee who used cocaine on the job but wasn’t fired. 

“Although these Caucasian employees were in a similar position as plaintiff, their conduct was not sufficiently similar to plaintiff’s conduct of taking an extended, unapproved break," the ruling states. "Thus, plaintiff failed to offer evidence proving disparate treatment or demonstrating an inference of discrimination.”

In his complaint, Toles claimed that the company’s managers would often make discriminatory statements and also discipline African-American employees differently than their counterparts. He said things worsened after when he received a verbal and written discipline and was suspended, which he alleged happened because of his race. The defendant filed a motion for summary disposition via MCR 2.116(C)(10), stating that Toles failed to prove establish a prima facie claim as he didn’t suffer an adverse employment action and failed to prove that he received disciplinary actions as a result of unlawful discrimination.

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