Monday, May 20, 2024

Judge strikes MSUPD’s attempt to dismiss racial discrimination lawsuit

June 6, 2023
Michigan State University Police Department on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
Michigan State University Police Department on Thursday, April 6, 2023.

Michigan State University’s motion to completely dismiss a lawsuit against its independent police department, MSUPD, was struck Tuesday by a federal judge, giving plaintiff Crystal Perry a chance to further her case.

The lawsuit alleges that MSUPD’s leaders unjustly retaliated against Perry, a Black woman who worked for the department, for filing internal complaints of discrimination by firing her in July 2022, despite previous positive performance evaluations.

In response, the university motioned to dismiss the entirety of Perry’s case, arguing she didn’t fully exhaust other remedies like complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and didn’t establish the factual allegations required by the civil rights statutes employed.

The university also requested that, short of dismissing the case entirely, much of Perry's complaint be struck from the record, arguing that hundreds of paragraphs of the lawsuit are "irrelevant" to the charge of employment retaliation and could "inflame the factfinder."

These “immaterial allegations” include Perry being made to work from a broom-closet, MSUPD Public Safety Operations Director John Prush telling her to “go back where [she] came from,” being told she was only hired because she was “close friends” with a Black supervisor who she didn’t know, multiple MSUPD employees “taking a stand against” an implicit bias training Perry led because they “didn’t like the word diversity,” and the section of the complaint where Perry informs the court that she is Black.

But, before Perry even responded to MSU’s motions, the court dismissed them, allowing the case to move forward.

Liz Abdnour, the attorney representing Perry, said she was “shocked” by the early victory.

“I called [Perry] right after court, and she was thrilled,” Abdnour said. “She felt like the judge was sending the message that this isn’t as clear cut as MSU says, that there’s a case here.”

What’s next

The judge, Robert James Jonker of Michigan’s Western District, described the university’s aggressive response as a “premature” attempt to solicit a decision before the case could play out.

So, MSU will now have to file a full answer to the lawsuit, saying whether they believe each of the hundreds of claims in the complaint are true.

After that, Perry and the university will begin the process of “discovery,” where they will gather and share evidence and witnesses ahead of a potential jury-trial, which would begin Sept. 10, 2024.

Abdnour said her client is “very open” to settling the case before it goes to trial, but MSU hasn’t indicated whether it’s open to discussing that.

The university declined to comment on the possibility of a settlement because it has a policy against discussing pending litigation.

MSU’s version

While Perry argues that her termination was an act of retaliation for raising concerns about the discrimination she faced, MSU argues in its motions that the firing was justified by “professional incidents and performance issues.”

Former MSUPD Chief of Staff Darryl Green, who fired Perry, says it was the result of a broad sense that Perry didn’t “behave professionally and cordially” with colleagues, according to his affidavit in the case.

He says this wasn’t reflected in the positive performance review Perry received shortly before the firing because he “decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and a chance to improve,” according to the affidavit.

Green left MSUPD to become University of Alabama Birmingham’s Vice President of Public Safety shortly after he fired Perry.

Abdnour questioned Green’s defense, saying it “wasn't fair” to expect Perry to improve on concerns that he didn’t express in the review.

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