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Michigan’s Civil Rights Act Applies to Pretrial Detainees

In reversing a grant of summary judgment to jail officials, Michigan’s Court of Appeals held that the Michigan Civil Rights Act (CRA) does not exclude all people detained in a correctional facility. Rather, it only excludes those who are “serving a sentence of imprisonment.”

Tara K. Hamed was appealing the grant of summary judgment to Wayne County and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. Hamed was arrested on an outstanding warrant for unpaid child support. On September 7, 2001, the Circuit Court ordered her to serve 45 days in jail or pay $1,500. The court, however, ordered her release to gain entry to an inpatient substance abuse treatment program by September 14 or report to jail that day if she had failed to pay $1,500.

Instead of releasing her, Livingston County transported her to the Wayne County Jail pursuant to outstanding warrants for probation violation. Upon arrival at the jail, the transport guards realized that only one guard, Reginald Johnson, was present. They obtained permission from a superior to override jail policy that requires a female guard to be present with female prisoners.

After the transport officers left, Johnson kept Hamed in the command “bubble” with him. He told her he could “help” her if she had a close personal relationship with him. She interpreted this as a request for sex. Johnson initially put her in a cell, but then moved her to another cell infested with cockroaches.

When Hamed begged to be let out, Johnson said he would if she was a “good girl.” He then took her to a private office where he partially removed her clothes and fondled her breasts and buttocks. He ejaculated on her clothing and unsuccessfully tried to penetrate her.      Johnson had 14 internal affairs complaints against him prior to his sexual assault of Hamed, which resulted in his conviction in 2002. The defendants did not dispute the assault had occurred.

The appellate court held that employers were “vicariously liable for acts of quid pro quo sexual harassment” committed by “those employees [who] use their supervisory authority to perpetuate the harassment.”

The defendants argued that the Wayne County Jail is not a public service under MCL 37.2301(b), which provides that “public service does not include a state or county correctional facility with respect to actions and decisions regarding an individual serving a sentence of imprisonment.”

The Court of Appeals held that that exception does not apply to pre-trial detainees or other persons not under sentence. It was clear from the record that Hamed was ordered released and was only in Wayne County for a probation violation. Thus, the trial court was in error to conclude she could not bring suit and the summary judgment order was reversed. Note that the Michigan Supreme Court has accepted an appeal of this ruling. See: Hamed v. Wayne County, 284 Mich.App. 681, 775 N.W.2d 1 (Mich.App. 2009).

Additional source: Chicago Tribune

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Related legal case

Hamed v. Wayne County