On February 7, 2019, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued its unpublished decision in Dignan v Ypsilanti Comm Sch (Case No. 340089). In that case, Ypsilanti Community Schools hired the Michigan Leadership Institute (“MLI”) to conduct a superintendent search on behalf of the school district. MLI received 27 applications for the position, and it forwarded five (5) of them to the school district for further consideration. Patricia Dignan, a Caucasian woman who was 72‑years‑old at the time she applied for the position, was not selected for consideration. Subsequently, she filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that she had been discriminated against on the basis of race and age.
The trial court and the Court of Appeals rejected Dignan’s claims. The Court of Appeals noted that Dignan had no recent school district experience – she had not been employed by a school district for a decade and had not been employed as an assistant superintendent or superintendent for nearly two decades. In contrast, all of the candidates selected by MLI either were currently employed in leadership positions in school districts or had recent experience in those positions. With respect to her claims of discrimination, the court highlighted that two (2) of the candidates forwarded for consideration were at least 60‑years‑old, and one of the forwarded candidates was Caucasian. Thus, because members of Dignan’s protected classes were selected for consideration by the school district, Dignan could not establish that she had been discriminated against on those bases. The court dismissed her legal action. Dignan serves as a good refresher relative to the basics of a discrimination claim brought on the basis of age or race. Should you have any questions regarding discrimination claims pursued against your school district, Lusk Albertson emphasizes that it is always advisable to contact legal counsel.