Renny v. Port Huron Hosp., Docket No. 74884

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtCAVANAGH; WILLIAMS; RILEY
Citation427 Mich. 415,398 N.W.2d 327
PartiesKaren RENNY, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. PORT HURON HOSPITAL, Defendant-Appellant. 427 Mich. 415, 398 N.W.2d 327, 105 Lab.Cas. P 55,624, 1 Indiv.Empl.Rts.Cas. (BNA) 1560
Docket NumberDocket No. 74884
Decision Date10 February 1987

Page 327

398 N.W.2d 327
Karen RENNY, Plaintiff-Appellee,
PORT HURON HOSPITAL, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket No. 74884.
427 Mich. 415, 398 N.W.2d 327, 105 Lab.Cas. P 55,624,
1 Indiv.Empl.Rts.Cas. (BNA) 1560
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued June 3, 1986.
Decided Dec. 30, 1986.
Rehearing Denied Feb. 10, 1987.

Page 329

[427 MICH 417] Huegli, Parrish & Mitchell, by Richard F. Huegli, Jr., Port Huron, for plaintiff-appellee.

Cross, Wrock, Miller & Vieson, by Dan W. Chandler, Detroit, for defendant-appellant, Port Huron Hosp.

Before the Entire Bench.

CAVANAGH, Justice.

Plaintiff brought suit against defendant hospital for wrongful discharge. The jury found for plaintiff and awarded her $100,000 in damages. In this appeal, Port Huron Hospital contends that the trial court committed error requiring reversal in allowing the jury to determine as a matter of fact whether the Employee Handbook established an employment contract allowing discharge only for "just cause." The hospital further contends that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to consider whether the decision of the grievance board upholding plaintiff's discharge was final and binding.

We find that the trial court properly submitted the question of a just-cause contract to the jury. The existence of a just-cause contract is a question of fact for the jury where the employer establishes written policies and procedures by which to discharge an employee, but does not expressly retain the right to terminate employees at will. Furthermore,[427 MICH 418] a private employer cannot insulate itself from judicial review of an employee's discharge by unilaterally establishing a method of dispute resolution to which the employee must submit.

However, where an employee has expressly consented to submit a complaint to a joint employer-employee grievance board established by the employer with the knowledge that the resulting decision is final and binding, the decision shall be final unless the court finds as a matter of law that the procedures used did not comport with elementary fairness. If the court so finds, the merits of the case may be submitted to the jury to determine if, in fact, the employee was fired for just cause.

We find that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find a just-cause contract. Although the question whether the grievance procedure afforded plaintiff elementary fairness was a question of law which should not have been submitted to the jury, we find no error which requires reversal. We find, as did the jury, that plaintiff's discharge hearing was not final and binding as it did not comport with

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elementary fairness. Furthermore, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that plaintiff had not been discharged for just cause.


Plaintiff was employed as a registered nurse by defendant hospital. On June 18, 1980, plaintiff was working as a circulating nurse in Operating Room 2 at the hospital. Another registered nurse, Mary Brown, was in charge of Operating Room 2 for the week. Between operations, the nurses, aides, and orderlies were responsible for cleaning the room to assure aseptic conditions.

At the end of the second operation, plaintiff suggested that scrub nurse, Marion Zechiel, should [427 MICH 419] take her coffee break. Plaintiff took the patient to the recovery room. When she returned, she saw that Mrs. Zechiel was still in the room. Plaintiff testified that she told Mrs. Zechiel to take her coffee break at the designated time or she would not get one. Plaintiff believed that the cleaning had been completed.

Mrs. Zechiel testified that plaintiff ordered her to stop cleaning the operating room as it was not helping "our cause." According to Mrs. Zechiel's complaint and trial testimony, several of the registered nurses were unhappy about having to do work formerly assigned to aides. Mrs. Zechiel resented plaintiff's comment but said nothing. She completed what she was doing and left the room.

When the third patient was brought into the operating room, two scrub nurses and plaintiff were unable to determine if the light handles above the operating table had been changed. The nurses assumed that the handles were contaminated. At the conclusion of the third operation, plaintiff and Mary Brown asked Mrs. Zechiel if she had changed the light handles. Mrs. Zechiel could not remember whether she had changed the handles or not. The following day, Brown filed an incident report with operating room manager, Paul Tyjewski, as required by hospital policy.

Brown testified at trial that Tyjewski asked her if she had attempted to sabotage the operating room procedure. Brown denied having done so and was shocked at the question. Both Brown and Tyjewski testified that Brown assumed full responsibility as head nurse for the incident. Brown also testified that neither she nor plaintiff attempted to blame Mrs. Zechiel for the incident.

Brown was not questioned further by Tyjewski or any representative of the hospital until after plaintiff was discharged. She was not called as a [427 MICH 420] witness at plaintiff's discharge hearing although she had been present in the operating room when plaintiff spoke to Mrs. Zechiel. Brown testified at trial that she overheard plaintiff's comment to Zechiel about her coffee break but could not remember the exact words as the statement was "so unremarkable." She also testified that Tyjewski called a meeting in the nurses' lounge on June 24 to assure the staff that the rumors of plaintiff's firing over the incident in the operating room were unfounded.

Marion Zechiel testified that Tyjewski called her on June 19, the day after the incident. She agreed to meet him at his office the following day to submit a statement about the incident. Her statement alleged several incidents where nurses had undermined hospital policy. She specified two separate incidents with two separate nurses, including the incident with plaintiff. She also claimed that a small group of people were working against the new teamwork system instituted by Tyjewski. 1

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[427 MICH 421] On Friday, June 20, Tyjewski called plaintiff to his office. Tyjewski told plaintiff that she had intimidated another employee. Plaintiff denied this allegation and expressed concern that Tyjewski was singling her out due to recent conflicts between Tyjewski and herself. Tyjewski suspended plaintiff with pay. He told her to return to his office on Monday. When plaintiff returned Monday, Tyjewski discharged her without further discussion. He handed her a discipline form noting that she was being discharged for "deliberate restriction of work."

In accordance with step two of the grievance procedure established by the hospital in its Employee Handbook, plaintiff went to speak with the Assistant Director of Employee Services, Mr. Yuille. 2 Yuille testified at trial that his role was that of a mediator. Prior to his meeting with [427 MICH 422] plaintiff, Yuille had met with Tyjewski. Yuille had advised him of the appropriate violation in the handbook with which to charge plaintiff. After speaking with plaintiff, Yuille spoke with Tyjewski again, but was unable to resolve the problem.

Yuille did not speak with Zechiel or Brown or conduct any investigation of the incident. He testified that he felt plaintiff understood the charge against her, which plaintiff told him was intimidating another employee. When Yuille contacted plaintiff to inform her that Tyjewski refused to rescind the firing, plaintiff indicated an interest

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in pursuing her grievance before the grievance board. 3

[427 MICH 423] In accordance with step three of the grievance procedure, plaintiff met with Mr. Scheib, the Vice President of Employee Services, who informed her about the procedures of the grievance board. Mr. Scheib also served as the chairman of the grievance board. Plaintiff testified that Scheib explained the process by which she could choose the six members of the joint employee-employer board. He also explained he would vote in case of a tie vote and that the decision of the board was final and binding. Plaintiff claims that Scheib told her that she could not have counsel present, could not see the complaint against her, and would not be informed of the identity of the other witnesses testifying at the hearing. She could not be present during the testimony of any other witness or during Mr. Scheib's opening remarks.

Mr. Scheib testified at trial that plaintiff's discipline slip was the only notice she received. He stated that employees were not allowed to hear the opening remarks or the testimony of other [427 MICH 424] witnesses. Plaintiff would have the complaint read to her at the hearing and could testify on her own behalf. The aggrieved employee was the first witness and would be called back only if the board had further questions after hearing testimony of other witnesses.

Scheib could not recall if plaintiff objected to any of the procedures prior to or during the hearing or if she requested counsel be present. He could not recall his opening remarks to the committee or whether plaintiff was given a copy of the complaint at any time. No records or transcripts of a discharge hearing are kept, and the committee makes no finding.

While Scheib testified that plaintiff could ask the board to call witnesses, he could not recall if he had informed plaintiff of this right. However, no witnesses may be called without the board's consent, and a witness's appearance before the board is voluntary. An employee has no right to cross-examine or rebut a witness's testimony or to make any closing or summary statements.

Plaintiff submitted a formal grievance on June 25, 1980. 4 On July 1, 1980, plaintiff's grievance was considered by the panel which she had selected. The board heard three witnesses: plaintiff, Tyjewski, and complainant Zechiel. After the hearing, the board voted five to one to uphold plaintiff's firing.


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