Detroit — The Michigan appeals court threw out a $21,000 award for a black state employee who felt humiliated by the presence of a 5-foot-tall stuffed gorilla at her cubicle in Lansing.
The gorilla wasn’t the key issue in Crystal Perry’s lawsuit against the Department of Human Services, the appeals court said in a 3-0 opinion released Friday. She said she was denied promotions and training because of race.
Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina ruled in favor of the department on the discrimination allegations after a trial in 2013. But the judge said she was “very angry” about the stuffed gorilla and told the state to pay $1,000 a day for the 21 days it was present in 2009.
“I think that if I walked down the streets of Detroit or Flint carrying that gorilla, I’d be shot, and I’d deserve to be shot,” Aquilina said at the time. “It is as bad and as offensive as words that also should not be said. I won’t go there. I don’t have to. … People died in this country so that these things don’t happen.”
But the appeals court said the $21,000 award was improper because Perry’s lawsuit didn’t make a claim of a hostile work environment.
“The toy gorilla was in plaintiff’s workplace for a total of three weeks during the course of plaintiff’s employment at DHS — at the time, a period of over six years. This does not constitute proof of an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment,” said judges Stephen Borrello, Deborah Servitto and Jane Beckering.
The department said it’s pleased with the decision. It refused to say whether anyone was reprimanded for the gorilla incident.
“We’re not going to discuss or rehash the details at this point. The court has found that DHS did nothing wrong,” spokesman Bob Wheaton said.
Perry’s attorney, Daryle Salisbury, said he’s surprised and disappointed by the result.
“The trial court has leeway,” he said. “My client was incensed about what happened. The judge was trying to be sensitive.”
The gorilla belonged to a co-worker but it wasn’t clear who had placed it at Perry’s cubicle, Salisbury said.
He said she complained but “toughed it out” until the gorilla was finally removed. Perry still works for the state.