Gay Corrections Officer Files Lawsuit Over Employment Discrimination

Kate Opalewski
By | 2018-10-10T12:57:29-04:00 September 26th, 2018|Michigan, News|

A gay corrections officer has sued the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Corrections for employment discrimination. The case was filed in federal court on March 16 by Rasor Law Firm attorneys Jim Rasor and Andrew Laurila on behalf of the plaintiff Ashley Menchaca.
Menchaca, who works at the Woodland Center Correctional Facility in Livingston County, said she has experienced acts of workplace harassment and discrimination, including derogatory comments from supervisors regarding her sexual orientation and gender non-conformity.
“Ashley became victimized in the workplace to no fault of her own,” said Laurila. “We are prepared to fight this out in the Sixth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. … We believe in this.”
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants discriminated against Menchaca based on her sexual orientation in violation of the federal anti-discrimination statue, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of constitutionally-protected classes such as race and sex.
The defendants are represented by Michigan’s office of attorney general and intend to seek dismissal of Menchaca’s Title VII sexual orientation discrimination claim.
Andrea Bitely, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment as this case is pending litigation and they are awaiting a ruling by Judge Terrance Berg.
“The attorney general’s office for the state of Michigan – which has a track record of spending millions of public monies fighting against the rights of LGBT people – is arguing that it’s okay for the state to discriminate against LGBT folks on the basis of their LGBT status,” said Rasor. “The attorney general’s role is to protect all Michigan citizens from discrimination. This is just one more example of why the attorney general’s agenda is hateful and discriminatory.”
Since 2016, the MDOC has paid more than $3 million in damages in seven lawsuits that accused the MDOC of employment discrimination, the department said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The MDOC has an appropriated budget for 2018 just over $2 billion.
“This is a huge employer of people in our state that wants the right to legally fail to protect LGBT folks in the workplace,” said Rasor, noting that the MDOC does a “miserable job” of protecting women, minorities and disabled workers who they have successfully represented in employment discrimination cases.
He said, “We have recovered millions and millions of dollars for clients subject to discrimination at the MDOC. … The state of Michigan has paid our clients out of the public budget. It’s costing taxpayers a fortune.”
MDOC employees who feel they have been discriminated against at work are encouraged to call the Rasor Law Firm or their attorney to bring the MDOC to justice. Beyond that, members of the community can and should vote in the upcoming election.
“If every single LGBT citizen in Michigan made sure that they went to the polls in November, we’ll have a much better chance to elect a Democratic team that can help turn this around,” said Rasor, adding that under Gov. Rick Snyder, the state of Michigan continues to fight against expanding civil rights protection to include sexual orientation.
The state of Michigan is part of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which has before now refused to recognize that Title VII protects employees from sexual orientation workplace discrimination on the basis that sexual orientation is distinct from sex discrimination.
Beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Court struck down as unconstitutional amendments to Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio’s state constitutions defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, lower federal courts have taken an increasingly expansive view of sexual orientation workplace discrimination protection.
Most recently, in a unanimous March 7 decision in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., a case originating in Michigan’s Eastern District Court, the Sixth Circuit held that discrimination on the basis of transgender status is “necessarily” discrimination on the basis of sex and therefore prohibited under Title VII.
LGBTQ people are not a protected class in the state of Michigan. However, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission took action in May to address anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The Commission voted to approve a motion to adopt an interpretive statement that “discrimination because of … sex” includes discrimination because of gender identity and discrimination because of sexual orientation.
The attorney general’s office issued a formal opinion in July asserting that under the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act LGBTQ Michiganders are not protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission ignored that opinion and has continued investigating complaints.
“Instead of the attorney general actually spending his time defending the citizens in the state of Michigan against predatory lending or predatory insurance practices, or discrimination, he is spending his time fighting to discriminate against citizens,” said Rasor. “We are among a team of trial lawyers that continue to bring them to justice and expose their inability to protect workers in the workplace.”

About the Author:

Kate Opalewski
Kate Opalewski is BTL's features editor and has been since 2015. She has covered a variety of topics ranging from art, politics and community outreach. Recently, she was honored by the Detroit Police Department LGBT Advisory Board for her work for the local LGBTQIA community.