Judges rule Rep. Banks isn’t immune in workplace case

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled state Rep. Brian Banks cannot invoke legislators’ immunity in a lawsuit a former aide filed against him alleging workplace sexual harassment.

Banks, D-Grosse Pointe Woods, was sued in May 2013 by former aide Tramaine Cotton, who alleged the legislator wrongfully fired him after he rejected Banks’ sexual advances.

In an opinion published Friday, a three-judge appeals panel rejected Banks’ argument that he should be able to invoke “absolute immunity” from legal liability under the state constitution for members of the Legislature that pertains to “speech and debate.”

The appeals court said that immunity applies only to acts involving official actions taken by a legislator, such as voting or debating a bill on the House floor.

Cotton claims Banks fired him for refusing to engage in a romantic relationship.

“None of these allegations involve a legislative act; even the ultimate decision to terminate Cotton’s employment did not involve legislative concerns, but was merely administrative,” judges Michael J. Kelly, Deborah A. Servitto and Cynthia Diane Stephens wrote in a 14-page ruling.

In appealing a lower court’s decision, Banks tried to argue Cotton’s “job duties were integrally related to the legislative process.” But in earlier court documents, Banks said Cotton was assigned to respond to constituent concerns, attend events and chauffeur him and other state representatives from Detroit to Lansing.

The Court of Appeals upheld a Wayne County judge’s earlier rulings that Cotton has a sufficient workplace retaliation claim under the state’s civil rights law.

In the lawsuit, Cotton alleged Banks took him to a Lansing hotel in April 2013 and forced oral sex on him.

Cotton also alleged Banks made unwanted “sexual comments and explicit solicitations” to him during his brief employment in Banks’ office in early 2013 — Banks’ first year in Lansing.

After rejecting Banks’ alleged romantic advances, Cotton claims he was fired.

Banks has denied Cotton’s sexual harassment allegations and said in court documents he fired Cotton after learning Cotton had been driving him back and forth from Detroit to Lansing on a suspended license and had an outstanding bench warrant for missing a court appearance.

Cotton also is claiming Banks’ actions caused him emotional distress.

“Cotton could properly allege a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress premised on facts which might also support a claim under the Civil Rights Act,” the appeals court judges said.

A Wayne County judge removed the state of Michigan as a defendant in the lawsuit since Cotton was not a protected civil service employee. The judge added the Michigan House of Representatives as a co-defendant.

The lawsuit against Banks is his latest legal problem.

Prior to being elected the state House in November 2012, Banks racked up eight felony convictions from 1998 to 2004 for credit card fraud and writing bad checks and was evicted from his home in 2012 for not paying his rent.

Last year, Banks survived a Democratic primary with six challengers and easily won re-election in the 1st House district, which includes parts of northeast Detroit, Harper Woods and Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Shores.

Banks did not immediately respond to a message Friday seeking comment.


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