Burns v. City of Detroit Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

In November 2002, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a very strong opinion rejecting the concept that sexual harassment was free speech. It also upheld anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws as proper legislative enactments that remedy serious wrongs without impinging on the constitutional rights of the violators. After another remand from the Michigan Supreme Court, the parties settled the case for $775,000.

Date Filed: 

October 10, 1995

Client 

Lynette Burns

Case Description 

On October 10, 1995, Lynette Burns filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court alleging sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, as well as other related causes.

Burns worked for the Detroit Police Department as a fingerprint identification technician beginning in 1988. From July 1994 through January 1995, Burns was subjected to unwelcome sexual remarks and an angry tirade of abusive and threatening comments about the inferiority of women. One of the unit supervisors witnessed this abusive behavior, but did nothing. After Burns internally reported some of the most outrageous conduct, one of the harassers threatened her with physical harm. Burns then filed three charges with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights alleging claims of sex discrimination and retaliation.

After a jury decided in Burn’s favor and awarded her damages, the case was appealed several times. One repeated question was whether the remarks that supported the sexual harassment claims could legally form the basis for liability because they are protected speech under the First Amendment and the Michigan state constitution.

In November 2002, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a very strong opinion rejecting the concept that sexual harassment was free speech. It also upheld anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws as proper legislative enactments that remedy serious wrongs without impinging on the constitutional rights of the violators. After another remand from the Michigan Supreme Court, the parties settled the case for $775,000.