Most of White Teacher’s Race-Bias Award Vacated

     (CN) — A white teacher who was awarded $535,000 for wrongful termination for making a racial joke should have only received 10 percent of that amount, a divided Michigan Supreme Court ruled.
     Craig Hecht taught third grade at Linden Charter Academy, or LCA, in Flint, Mich., in 2009. One day, library aide Lisa Code returned a white table to his class when she should have brought back a brown table.
     “You know I want a white table; white tables are better,” Hecht said, according to court records. “We can take all these brown tables and we can burn the brown tables.”
     Code, who is white, and black co-worker Floyd Bell reportedly “called a foul” after the joke, following the school’s procedure for dealing with inappropriate conduct.
     Code also reported the comment to the dean of the school, Corrine Weaver, who began an investigation.
     Hecht initially denied saying that brown should burn, but he later admitted it in a written statement.
     He also said his remark was merely a “tasteless joke,” and that black teachers at LCA also engaged in racial banter.
     Hecht was placed on immediate leave, but instead of exiting the building, he asked Bell to change his statement about the incident. Bell refused and told the school principal that Hecht had asked him to lie.
     Finding that Hecht was interfering in the investigation, school officials fired him.
     Hecht stated that was able to get substitute teaching jobs, but when he tried for full-time employment, his prospects were scuttled by reports of the incident from his LCA employment records.
     These disclosures were required by law. Hecht eventually found a lower-paying job as a machine operator.
     Hecht sued LCA’s parent company, National Heritage Academies Inc., for violating his civil rights. His witnesses testified about whether black employees made racial comments without being investigated or fired.
     For example, Weaver testified that after she mentioned that she would make fried pork chops for dinner, black employee Tim Jones responded, “Why would you be making pork chops? You’re white.”
     Weaver called a foul on Jones, but he was not disciplined. She added that another black employee, Kevelin Jones, also faced no repercussions for saying Weaver wouldn’t eat soul food during Black History Month because she is white.
     In addition, Weaver stated that she heard LCA employees use the “n-word” on more than one occasion, along with other racial banter, without facing discipline.
     Also, Hecht testified that when a mural of Dora the Explorer was painted using a dark skin tone, a black employee said she should be called “Laquisha.”
     The jury agreed with Hecht that he was fired on the basis of his race and awarded him $50,120 in past economic damages and $485,000 in future economic damages, for a total award of $535,120.
     The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, but the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the award of future damages in a July 26 opinion written by Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr.
     Young ruled that LCA should not have been penalized for the results of its mandatory disclosures regarding Hecht’s employment record.
     “The trial court was required to enforce the broad grant of immunity against civil liability for these disclosures that the Legislature provided to defendant, and the trial court’s decision to admit this evidence violated [Michigan law],” he wrote.
     The court was split in a 5-2 vote. Justice Bridget M. McCormack wrote a partially dissenting opinion.
     “The injury from which the liability arose was the discriminatory discharge, not the disclosures. Introducing evidence of the defendant’s disclosures of the plaintiff’s conduct merely assisted the jury in determining the appropriate remedy for the discriminatory discharge,” she wrote.

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