886 F.3d 591 (6th Cir. 2018), 17-1445, Mys v. Michigan Department of State Police

Docket Nº:17-1445
Citation:886 F.3d 591
Opinion Judge:RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Linda MYS, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:Jeanmarie Miller, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellant. Collin H. Nyeholt, LAW OFFICES OF CASEY D. CONKLIN, PLC, Okemos, Michigan, for Appellee. Jeanmarie Miller, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellant. Collin H. Nyeholt, LAW...
Judge Panel:Before: GILMAN, ROGERS, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:March 28, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
SUMMARY

A jury found that the Michigan Department of State Police had retaliated against Mys, a former desk sergeant with the Department, by transferring her from her longtime post in Newaygo, Michigan, to a post in Detroit. Department officials initiated the process that culminated in Sgt. Mys’s transfer shortly after she had filed the second of two complaints alleging sexual assault and sexual... (see full summary)

 
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886 F.3d 591 (6th Cir. 2018)

Linda MYS, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 17-1445

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 28, 2018

Argued: March 8, 2018

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Grand Rapids. No. 1:10-cv-00794— Robert J. Jonker, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Jeanmarie Miller, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellant.

Collin H. Nyeholt, LAW OFFICES OF CASEY D. CONKLIN, PLC, Okemos, Michigan, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Jeanmarie Miller, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellant.

Collin H. Nyeholt, LAW OFFICES OF CASEY D. CONKLIN, PLC, Okemos, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: GILMAN, ROGERS, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

A jury found that the Michigan Department of State Police (the Department) had retaliated against Linda Mys, a former desk sergeant with the Department, by transferring her from her longtime post in Newaygo, Michigan, to a post in Detroit. Department officials initiated the process that culminated in Sgt. Mys’s transfer shortly after she had filed the second of two complaints alleging sexual assault and sexual harassment by Sgt. Richard Miller, one of her coworkers. Sgt. Mys was awarded $350,000 in compensatory damages.

On appeal, the Department argues that the district court erred in denying (1) its motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial; and (2) its motion for a remittitur. The Department thus disputes that the trial record contains any evidence from which a reasonable jury could have found in Sgt. Mys’s favor or upon which the jury’s award could be justified.

Contrary to the Department’s assertions, the record contains ample evidence that supports the jury’s verdict and award. We therefore AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Factual background

1. Sgt. Mys assigned to the Newaygo post

Sgt. Mys joined the Department as a trooper in 1987, and she began working at the Newaygo post in 1999 upon her promotion to sergeant. She subsequently bought a home in Sand Lake, Michigan, which is 15 miles from the Newaygo post. Her permanently disabled mother then moved to Howard City, which is eight miles from Sand Lake, so that Sgt. Mys could care for her.

2. Sexual-assault and sexual-harassment complaints

In 2005, Sgt. Mys alleges that she became the object of unwanted sexual advances

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by Sgt. Miller. This conduct reached its nadir in June of that year, when Sgt. Miller allegedly showed up uninvited to Sgt. Mys’s house and sexually assaulted her. An internal investigation, however, deemed those allegations " nonsustained," meaning that the available evidence neither confirmed nor dispelled them. The Department therefore took no action against Sgt. Miller. Sgt. Mys filed a second complaint against Sgt. Miller in 2007, alleging continued sexual harassment, but the subsequent investigation determined that her allegations were " unfounded." A more in-depth account of these events is set forth in our prior opinion in this case, Mys v. Michigan Department of State Police, 590 Fed.Appx. 471, 472-475 (6th Cir. 2014).

3. The Department temporarily assigned Sgt. Mys to the Rockford post while seeking her permanent transfer elsewhere.

During the events relevant to this case, Captain (now Colonel) Gary Gorski was the highest-ranking officer in the Department’s Sixth District, which encompasses the Newaygo post. As such, he participated in and recommended the ultimate outcome of both internal investigations initiated by Sgt. Mys’s complaints. Before the second investigation’s results had even been finalized, Cpt. Gorski emailed his direct supervisor, Major Barry Getzen, and a human-resources director with the Department, Debbie Gilmore, to request that Sgt. Mys be assigned to a different post.

This request was based on a process called a " special circumstances transfer," which is governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiated between the Department and its employees’ union, the Michigan State Police Troopers Association. Cpt. Gorski explained that a transfer was necessary due to Sgt. Mys’s complaints against Sgt. Miller: This is the third time she, Linda Mys, has filed a UD-93 [formal complaint] on Detective Sergeant Miller in the past two years. I am confident that complete and thorough investigations were completed resulting in none of the allegations being sustained.

(Although Cpt. Gorski and other Department officials at times refer to three complaints filed by Sgt. Mys, only two were discussed at trial.) Cpt. Gorski continued: She [Sgt. Mys] has made allegations of a hostile work environment. I believe that the Newaygo post is a hostile work environment. This occurs only when Sergeant Mys is working.

...

She is detrimental to the continued effective operation of the post and has lost her credibility.

Despite Sgt. Mys’s allegations against Sgt. Miller, Cpt. Gorski never considered seeking Sgt. Miller’s transfer instead of hers. Before either Sgt. Mys or Lt. Terry Harris (the Newaygo post Commander) had been notified of the second internal investigation’s outcome, Cpt. Gorski contacted Robert Wolford, a departmental psychologist who had been working with Sgt. Mys, to give him a " heads-up" about the investigation’s findings and the impending transfer.

Roughly one week later, Cpt. Gorski emailed Maj. Getzen to request that Sgt. Mys be temporarily assigned to Rockford, another Sixth District post, until the Department reached a final determination on the requested transfer. Cpt. Gorski’s email explained that the temporary assignment was necessary because the internal investigation had " revealed a working environment that is very uncomfortable and unproductive for Sergeant Linda Mys and others at the Newaygo post."

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After Maj. Getzen approved the temporary reassignment, Cpt. Gorski intended for Lt. Harris to notify Sgt. Mys of her assignment to Rockford. She instead found out while at a departmental training session in Lansing, when troopers from the Rockford post told her that they had heard that she would be joining their post in less than 48 hours. The manner in which Sgt. Mys found out about the transfer embarrassed and distressed her because she felt that it " made [her] look very bad," and that she was being " bull[ied]" by the Department.

4. Sgt. Mys transferred to the Detroit post

Although Sgt. Mys initially opposed her temporary reassignment to Rockford, she found that she enjoyed the new post, got along well with her new colleagues, and that being away from Sgt. Miller greatly relieved the stress that she had been experiencing while stationed in Newaygo. The posting also allowed her to continue caring for her mother because Rockford and Newaygo are equidistant from her home in Sand Lake. A permanent desk-sergeant position was open at the Rockford post, so Sgt. Mys decided not to contest the Department’s pursuit of a " special circumstances transfer," although she had the right to do so under the CBA. She hoped that the Department would allow her to remain at the Rockford post if she did not contest the transfer from Newaygo.

The CBA empowers a Transfer Review Board (TRB) to make decisions about transfers within the Department. When the TRB convened to rule on Sgt. Mys’s proposed transfer, it was comprised of three members designated by the Department and two by the employees’ union. Because Sgt. Mys did not dispute that special circumstances existed to justify her transfer, the TRB’s sole task at her hearing was to select a permanent transfer location.

The CBA restricts the TRBs selection of posts to a list comprised of up to six posts requested by the employee and up to four posts requested by the Department. In addition to the Rockford post, Sgt. Mys requested the Lakeview or Reed City posts, which are both within the Sixth District. The Department requested the Wayland...

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