Sanders v. Michigan Department of Corrections, et al.
MEMORANDUM and ORDER granting 32 Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Avern Cohn. (JOwe)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
ANNAE L. SANDERS,
Case No. 10-CV-15041
HONORABLE AVERN COHN
MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF
CORRECTIONS, et al.,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 32)
This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff Annae Sanders (“Sanders”)
is employed as an assistant deputy warden with the Michigan Department of
Corrections (“MDOC”). Sanders worked at the Robert Scott Correctional Facility
(“RSCF”) until 2004, at which time she began working at the Mound Correctional Facility
(“MCF”). Sanders brings suit against Heidi Washington, RSCF’s warden; Bruce Curtis,
the MDOC’s regional prison administrator; Chris Crysler, an acting deputy at RSCF;
Darryl Steward, a deputy warden at MCF; and Gary Manns, a deputy director at the
MDOC. Sanders claims race and gender discrimination and retaliation under state and
federal law against the aforementioned defendants in their individual capacities. In her
complaint, Sanders claims Count (I) Violation of the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights
Act - Disparate Treatment; Count (II) Violation of the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights
Act - Hostile Work Environment; Count (III) Violation of the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil
Rights Act - Retaliation; Count (IV) Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment - Equal
Protection; and Count (V) Gross Negligence. Now before the Court is the defendants’
motion for summary judgment (Doc. 32). Sanders filed a response (Doc. 37). The
defendants filed a reply (Doc. 41). For the reasons that follow, the defendants’ motion
Sanders, an African-American female, is employed by the MDOC. On January
13, 2009, Sanders notified Defendant Heidi Washington (“Washington”) that she
believed that Jodi DeAngelo (“DeAngelo”), an MDOC employee, had falsified time and
attendance records. An MDOC employee’s failure to report a fellow employee’s work
rule violation is itself a violation. Human resource officer John McCoskey (“McCoskey”)
was interviewed in an internal affairs investigation regarding the matter. During the
investigation, DeAngelo said that Sanders was just attempting to get her in trouble.
Sanders says that the investigation turned on her. Ultimately, internal affairs concluded
that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that DeAngelo had falsified
records, as well as insufficient evidence to support DeAngelo’s claim that Sanders had
tried to set her up. In March 2009, Defendant Gary Manns (“Manns”) signed off on a
case review form, which closed the investigation file after these findings. Sanders says
that DeAngelo was not placed on stop order.1
In March 2009, Sanders applied for promotion to the position of deputy warden at
A stop order is leave mandated by the employer to ensure that the subject of
the stop order does not interfere with an ongoing investigation.
the Women’s Huron Valley Facility. Job candidates for MDOC positions submit
applications, and all candidates are screened so that only those who meet minimum
civil service requirements for the positions qualify for interviews. Thus, everyone who
interviews for an MDOC position is qualified to hold that position. The interviews are
conducted by a three or four person interview panel. Candidates are then ranked, and
the top-ranked candidate is offered the position. Sanders was ultimately denied the
promotion; the positions were offered to two other employees. Defendant Bruce Curtis
(“Curtis”) sat on the interview panel. Sanders was ranked 15th among the candidates.
In April 2009, DeAngelo was appointed by Michigan Governor Granholm to a
position on the parole board. Sanders applied for, but did not receive, appointment to
the parole board.
On May 15, 2009, Sanders filed a complaint with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against MDOC alleging discrimination, dating back
to July 2008. Sanders says that on May 27, 2009, Joan Bridgford, an MDOC employee,
notified Washington and McCoskey that Sanders had filed the complaint.
In November 2009, Sanders was the subject of an internal investigation
regarding her knowledge of the use of a “sanction cup” by staff under her supervision.
Curtis presided over Sanders’ disciplinary conference on the matter and found
insufficient evidence to support the finding of any work rule violations. Accordingly,
Sanders did not receive any discipline in connection with the matter.
In March 2010, Sanders was the subject of a second internal investigation
relating to charges that she had improperly awarded overtime to a corrections officer
and interfered with an MDOC internal investigation. Sanders was placed on a paid six3
month stop order while the investigation was pending. Sanders says that the stop order
made her fear that her employment would be terminated. Curtis drafted a report
indicating that Sanders had violated six work rules. Curtis thought that his findings
warranted termination of Sanders’ employment. Curtis presided over the disciplinary
conference. Sanders was ultimately found to have violated two work rules and issued a
In July 2010, Sanders was the subject of a third internal investigation relating to
charges that she had mistreated a grievance coordinator. Manns signed off on the
internal affairs investigation. Curtis presided over the disciplinary conference and found
insufficient evidence to support the work rule violation charges. Accordingly, Sanders
was not disciplined in connection with the matter.
In June 2010, Sanders applied for and was denied promotions to the position of
deputy warden at the Brooks and Crane Correctional Facilities. None of the defendants
participated in the decision not to promote Sanders. Sanders says, however, that Curtis
and Manns participated in disciplinary actions brought against her, and that such
disciplinary actions were placed in her personnel file and accessed by the interview
In January 2011, Sanders applied for and was denied promotions to the position
of warden at the Adrian, Baraga, Woodland, and Macomb Correctional Facilities. Curtis
sat on the interview panel. Sanders says that Curtis, by considering the disciplinary
actions in Sanders’ personnel file, used criteria outside of the specified selection criteria
to rank the candidates.
In 2011, Sanders applied for and was denied promotion to the position of deputy
warden at the Women’s Huron Valley Facility. The positions were ultimately offered to
DeAngelo and another employee. Curtis sat on the interview panel. Sanders says that
Curtis again considered the disciplinary actions in Sanders’ personnel file.
III. Standard of Review
Summary judgment will be granted when the moving party demonstrates that
there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). There is no genuine issue of
material fact when "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to
find for the non-moving party." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475
U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
The nonmoving party may not rest upon his pleadings; rather, the nonmoving
party's response "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Showing that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts is not enough; "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of
the nonmoving party is not sufficient to show a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Rather, the nonmoving party must
present "significant probative evidence" in support of its opposition to the motion for
summary judgment in order to defeat the motion. See Moore v. Philip Morris Co., 8
F.3d 335, 340 (6th Cir. 1993); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. Additionally, and
significantly, "affidavits containing mere conclusions have no probative value" in
summary judgment proceedings. Bsharah v. Eltra Corp., 394 F.2d 502, 503 (6th Cir.
The Court must decide "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement
to require submission to a [trier of fact] or whether it is so one-sided that one party must
prevail as a matter of law." In re Dollar Corp., 25 F.3d 1320, 1323 (6th Cir. 1994)
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). The Court "must view the evidence in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party." Employers Ins. of Wausau v. Petroleum
Specialties, Inc., 69 F.3d 98, 101 (6th Cir. 1995). Determining credibility, weighing
evidence, and drawing reasonable inferences are left to the trier of fact. See Anderson,
477 U.S. at 255. Only where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law may summary judgment be
granted. Thompson v. Ashe, 250 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2001).
A. Violation of the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act
1. Disparate Treatment
“The ultimate question in every employment discrimination case involving a claim
of disparate treatment is whether the plaintiff was the victim of intentional
discrimination.” Curry v. SBC Commc'ns, Inc., 669 F.Supp.2d 805, 824 (E.D. Mich.
2009) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 153 (2000)).
To establish intentional discrimination, a plaintiff must demonstrate direct evidence of
discrimination or indirect evidence of discrimination by presenting sufficient
circumstantial evidence to allow an inference of discrimination. Id.
Direct evidence does not require the fact-finder to draw any inferences. Id. at
825 (quoting In re Rodriguez, 487 F.3d 1001, 1007 (6th Cir. 2007)). "Evidence of
discrimination is not considered direct evidence unless [an improper] motivation is
explicitly expressed." Amini v. Oberlin College, 440 F.3d 350, 359 (6th Cir. 2006).
Here, Sanders has not presented any direct evidence of discrimination.
Even without direct evidence, Sanders can prevail if she can establish an
inferential case of discrimination under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S.
792 (1973). Curry, 669 F.Supp.2d at 824-25. Under McDonnell Douglas, as clarified by
Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981), Sanders must
first prove a prima facie case of discrimination. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-53; Kline v.
Tenn. Valley Auth., 128 F.3d 337, 342 (6th Cir. 1998).
A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating that
(1) she is a member of a protected group, (2) she was subject to an adverse
employment decision, (3) she was qualified for the position, and (4) she was treated
differently than similarly situated employees. Chambers v. City of Detroit, 786
F.Supp.2d 1253, 1263 (E.D. Mich. 2011) (citing Russell v. Univ. of Toledo, 537 F.3d
596, 604 (6th Cir. 2008)).
Sanders alleges that she was discriminated against because her race and
gender in violation of the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”). She says that the
defendants discriminated against her by declining to promote her, investigating her for
alleged work rule violations, and placing her on a stop order. (Compl. ¶59)
In her amended complaint, Sanders alleges that she applied for and was denied
five separate promotions.2 All qualified candidates who apply for a given position are
In her response to the defendants motion for summary judgment, Sanders says
that there was a sixth promotion for which she was passed over. The interview for that
interviewed for that position. The interviews are conducted by a three or four person
panel. The panel ranks the candidates, and offers the position to the candidate with the
Curtis was the only defendant involved in the promotion process. (Sanders Dep.
pg. 79-83) Curtis sat on the panel for three of the five positions for which Sanders
applied: March 2009 for deputy warden, January 2011 for senior executive warden, and
February 2011 for deputy warden. The positions were offered to candidates who the
panel ranked as the best. Thus, Sanders cannot show that any defendant discriminated
against her by not offering her promotions.
Further, Sanders would have to show that she was treated differently than a
similarly situated employee. See Chambers, 786 F.Supp.2d at 1263. Sanders
contends that DeAngelo is similarly situated. Similarly situated, however, “means that
all relevant aspects of their employment need to be nearly identical.” Bromley v.
Parisian, Inc., 55 F.App’x 232, 240 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing Pierce v. Commonwealth Life
Ins. Co., 40 F.3d 796, 802 (6th Cir.1994). Sanders concedes that at the time of the
interview for the deputy warden position that was ultimately offered to DeAngelo,
Sanders’ personnel file had the disciplinary sanctions listed. Sanders has offered no
evidence that DeAngelo’s personnel file contained any disciplinary sanctions. As such,
DeAngelo was not a similarly situated employee. See id. (finding that an inference of
discrimination could not be drawn from the fact that two employees were treated
differently where the employees had different performance histories). Because Sanders
promotion, however, occurred in November 2011, several months after Sanders filed
her amended complaint.
has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, her racial discrimination
claims must fail.
Even assuming that Sanders could make out a prima facie case of
discrimination, she is not necessarily entitled to a trial. After a plaintiff makes out a
prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendants to articulate a "legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason" for the adverse action. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-53. The
defendants say that Sanders was not promoted because she was under a disciplinary
sanction. Sanders concedes that the defendants have met this burden. See Pl.’s Resp.
Br. pg. 20 (“Given that Defendants have asserted a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason
. . . .”).
Sanders would still be able to defeat the defendants' motion for summary
judgment on the discrimination claims if she could demonstrate that the defendants'
stated reason for not promoting her is merely pretext. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256. To
establish pretext, a plaintiff may show "that the proffered reason ‘(1) has no basis in
fact; (2) did not actually motivate the adverse employment action; or (3) was insufficient
to warrant the adverse action.'" Sybrandt v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc., 560 F.3d 553,
558 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ladd v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., Inc., 552 F.3d 495, 502 (6th
Sanders essentially concedes that the defendants’ articulated reason for not
promoting her is what actually motivated them to not promote her. “Plaintiff contends
that [defendant] Curtis used criteria outside of the specified selection criteria to rank the
candidates. More specifically [defendant] Curtis considered and relied on the Plaintiff’s
disciplinary actions that were placed in her personnel file.” (Pl.’s Resp. Br. pg. 15)
Even assuming that it was improper for Curtis to use Sanders’ disciplinary record as a
factor in his rankings, doing so did not constitute racial discrimination.
As an element of her prima facie case, Sanders has to show that she was
subject to an adverse employment decision. See Chambers, 786 F.Supp.2d at 1263.
Sanders alleges that the defendants discriminated against her by investigating her for
alleged work rule violations. However, “[t]he act of investigating possible employee
misconduct is not an adverse action.” Kuhn v. Washtenaw Cnty., 2012 WL 12299890 at
*7 (E.D. Mich. April 12, 2012) (citing Dendinger v. Ohio, 207 F.App’x 521, 527 (6th Cir.
Further, pursuant to MDOC’s disciplinary procedure, when a complaint is initiated
against an employee, the complaint is sent to Internal Affairs (“IA”) for an investigation
to determine whether the charges are substantiated. If IA substantiates the charge, a
report is sent to the head of IA. If the head of IA signs-off on the report, the report is
sent to the deputy director. If the deputy director signs-off on the report, it is then sent
to the director of the MDOC. If the director of the MDOC signs-off, the matter is set for
a disciplinary conference at which the accused is represented by a union
representative. The chair of the disciplinary conference determines whether the
investigation was fair and whether there are any mitigating circumstances to defeat or
lessen the charge. The matter is then sent to labor relations, and labor relations makes
the ultimate decision of what, if any, discipline to impose.
The only defendants involved in the investigative process were Manns and
Curtis. Manns, as the deputy director, did not initiate any investigations or determine
Sanders’ culpability. He received a signed report from the head of IA, made sure it was
clear and consistent, and then signed the report and sent it on to the director of the
MDOC. Curtis was the chair of Sanders’ disciplinary conferences. Curtis found
sufficient evidence in the IA investigative report to substantiate charges in only one of
the three investigations of which he was the chair. Pursuant to MDOC’s disciplinary
procedure, that investigation was forwarded to labor relations who imposed a 5-day
suspension, which was ultimately reduced to a one-day suspension. Neither Manns nor
Curtis had enough involvement or authority in the disciplinary process to be held liable
for disciplinary actions taken against Sanders.
c. Stop Order
Sanders alleges the defendants discriminated against her by placing her on a
paid six-month stop order. First, Curtis was the only defendant involved in the decision
to place Sanders on a stop order. Second, Sanders was placed on the stop order
pursuant to the MDOC’s policy directives. MDOC policy directive 02.03.100 Section
N.1. provides for mandatory suspension when an employee is being investigated for a
work rule violation that affects the order and security of the work site. The directive
does not offer guidance regarding which work rule violations would fall in this category,
apparently leaving the decision to the employer’s discretion. Additionally, policy
directive 02.03.100 Section O.3. provides for permissive suspension where the work
rule violation is for conduct, if found to be true, would likely result in the employee being
discharged. Had all of the allegations against Sanders been substantiated, she would
likely have been terminated. Thus, the stop order was not inappropriate and did not
2. Hostile Work Environment
To establish a prima facie case of a racially hostile work environment, Sanders
must establish that (1) she belonged to a protected group, (2) she was subject to
unwelcome harassment, (3) the harassment was based on race, (4) the harassment
was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an
abusive working environment, and (5) the defendants knew or should have known about
the harassment and failed to act. Quinto v. Cross and Peters Co., 451 Mich. 358, 36869 (1996).
The conduct that Sanders says created a racially hostile work environment is the
same conduct that Sanders says demonstrated disparate treatment. As per the
discussion above, Sanders has failed to establish that her race was the reason for the
alleged harassment. Accordingly, Sanders’ racially hostile work environment claim fails.
See Shepherd v. Gen. Motors Corp., 2005 WL 1750626 (Mich.App. July 26, 2005)
(affirming summary disposition on the plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim because
the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that, but for the feature putting her in a protected
group, she would not have suffered the harassment) (citing Radtke v. Everett, 442 Mich.
368, 383 (1993)).
To establish a prima facie case of retaliation under ELCRA, Sanders must
demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that (1) Sanders engaged in protected
activity, (2) the defendants knew Sanders engaged in the protected activity, (3) the
defendants subsequently took an employment action adverse to Sanders, and (4) a
causal connection between the protected activity and adverse employment action
exists. Garg v. Macomb Cnty. Comm. Mental Health Servs., 472 Mich. 263, 273 (2005).
"In order to engage in a protected activity, a plaintiff must make an overt stand
against suspected illegal discriminatory action." Lockett v. March USA, Inc., 354
F.App'x 984, 997 (6th Cir. 2009)3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Sanders
says she was retaliated against for reporting work rule violations and because of her
race and gender. (Dep. of Annae Sanders, pg. 96) Because reporting work rule
violations is not an overt stand against illegal discriminatory action, it is not considered
protected activity. See Lockett, 354 F.App’x at 997; see also M.C.L. 37.2701(a) (stating
that a person shall not retaliate against someone for opposing a violation of the ELCRA
or for charging, filing a complaint, testifying, assisting, or participating in an
investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the ELCRA). Accordingly, Sanders has
failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation because she cannot show that she
engaged in protected activity.
Moreover, even assuming that Sanders retaliation claim is based upon her filing
a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (“MDCR”)4, which is
considered protective activity under ELCRA, she has failed to present any evidence that
any of the defendants knew of the complaint. Sanders says that on May 27, 2009, Joan
The Sixth Circuit analysis in Lockett is based on Ohio law. The elements of a
prima facie case of retaliation, however, are the same under Ohio law as they are under
Michigan law. See Lockett, 354 F.App’x at 997.
Sanders’ second amended complaint alleges that she was retaliated against for
complaining about discriminatory policies and/or patterns or practice. (Second Am.
Bridgford, an MDOC employee, notified Washington and McCoskey that Sanders had
filed the complaint. Sanders, however, has not offered any evidence to support this
Additionally, Sanders cannot establish a causal connection between the
protected activity and adverse employment action. Sanders says that the casual
connection is shown by the fact that less than two months after filing the complaint with
the MDCR, Sanders was placed on the sixth-month stop order. (Pl.’s Reply Br. pg. 26)
Unless the employer retaliates almost immediately upon learning of the protected
activity, temporal proximity, unless coupled with other indicia of retaliatory conduct, is
insufficient to find a causal connection. Mickey v. Zeidler Tool and Die Co., 516 F.3d
516, 525 (6th Cir. 2008). Accordingly, Sanders has failed to establish a prima facie
case of retaliation.5
B. Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment - Equal Protection
“The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ‘is essentially a
direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.’” Dubay v. Wells,
506 F.3d 422, 428 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center,
473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985)). The Sixth Circuit has held that the “threshold element of an
equal protection claim is disparate treatment . . . .” Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc.
v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365, 379 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Scarbrough v. Morgan Cnty.
Even if Sanders could make out a prima facie case of retaliation, she would not
be entitled to a trial on the issue. A retaliation claim is analyzed under the same
burden-shifting analysis as a discrimination claim. See Lewis v. Quaker Chemical
Corp., 229 F.3d 1152, at *7 (6th Cir. 2000). As discussed above, Sanders cannot
establish that the defendants’ articulated reason for the adverse employment action was
Bd. of Educ., 470 F.3d 250, 260 (6th Cir.2006)). As discussed in part IV.A.1., supra,
Sanders has failed to demonstrate disparate treatment. Accordingly, Sanders’ equal
protection claim fails.
C. Gross Negligence
The defendants say that they are governmentally immune from Sanders’ gross
negligence claim. The relevant statute, MCL 691.1407(2), sets forth the standard for
governmental immunity pertaining to individual actors and employees of governmental
agencies. The statute provides immunity if (a) the officer, employee, member, or
volunteer is acting or reasonably believes he or she is acting within the scope of his or
her authority; (b) the governmental agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a
governmental function; and (c) the officer's, employee's, member's, or volunteer's
conduct does not amount to gross negligence that is the proximate cause of the injury
It is undisputed that the MDOC is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a
governmental function. Sanders says the defendants were not acting within the scope
of their employment because their actions were discriminatory.6 The decisions to
investigate Sanders for alleged work rule violations and to not give her promotions,
however, are within the scope of the defendants’ authority. Moreover, such decisions
do not constitute “conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern
Sanders argument is that the defendants performed the actions in a
discriminatory manner, not that the actions were beyond the scope of the defendants’
employment. Further, the actions Sanders complains about (investigating Sanders for
alleged work rule violations, not giving her promotions, and placing her on a stop order)
are the same actions that form the basis of her disparate treatment claim. Thus, her
gross negligence claim fails for the same reasons her disparate treatment claim fails.
for whether an injury results.” M.C.L. 691.1407(7)(a). Thus, the defendants are
governmentally immune from liability for the conduct Sanders says is gross negligence.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: July 31, 2012
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was mailed to the attorneys of
record on this date, July 31, 2012, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
Case Manager, (313) 234-5160
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