Couple wins $11.4M in discrimination lawsuit against corrections department

The state of Michigan is expected to appeal after a Genesee County jury awarded more than $11 million Monday to a husband-and-wife pair who sued the Michigan Department of Corrections, alleging discrimination and retaliation.

The six-member all-white jury delivered its unanimous verdict Monday after a six-week trial that included 41 witnesses and hinged on allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation, said Jonathan Marko, an attorney for Lisa and Cedric Griffey. 

In a statement Monday announcing the jury's verdict, Marko wrote that "Ms. Griffey was racially harassed on a daily basis including being called 'Mammy', (being) asked if she wanted chitlins on her pizza, called the "black one" in her all-white office, told she was not wanted in the all-white office," and claims she was put into life-threatening situations after complaining about racism. 

Lisa Griffey, who now works in a Macomb County probation office, has worked for the state for 19 years, while Cedric Griffey served for 29 years.

“I would ask whoever is making decisions in Lansing to look at this case,” Marko said. “This isn’t the only case. There’s a lot more and there’s going to be a lot more.

"During the trial," Marko said, "it was discovered that high level administrators in Lansing sent a copy of Ms. Griffey's lawsuit to her husband's boss and the jury determined that this was done as part of a scheme to fire Mr. Griffey for his wife's civil rights case and the media attention it received."

Both Griffeys received multi-million dollar awards. Cedric was awarded $6.25 million: $1.85 million for past emotional distress, $1.9 million for future economic damages and $2.5 million for future emotional distress. 

The jury found that Cedric was "subjected to an adverse employment action" and that there was a "causal connection" between his "protected activity" and that adverse action.

Lisa was awarded $5.132 million: $25,000 for past economic damages, $2.75 million for past emotional distress, $857,000 for future economic damages, and $1.5 million for future emotional distress.

The jury found that Lisa was "subjected to unwelcome communications or conduct based on race," that that unwelcome conduct created an "intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment," that the MDOC was "legally responsible" for that offensive environment, that she suffered damages based on the "unwelcome communications" and that she suffered "adverse employment action."

The Michigan Department of Corrections referred The News to the Michigan Attorney General's Office for comment.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokeswoman for AG Dana Nessel, said in a statement that "we are extremely surprised and disappointed in this jury decision and its $11.3 million verdict.  We are reviewing our options with our client but we fully expect to appeal."

Marko's statement said that because the case is a civil rights matter, the Griffeys are "entitled to attorney fees and costs," which are estimated at $1 million.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.