Jury awards husband and wife prison employees $11.4M in racial discrimination case

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Detroit Free Press on 9/9/2019 by Paul Egan

LANSING – An all-white jury in Genesee County awarded $11.4 million Monday to two black Corrections Department workers in a case alleging racial discrimination and retaliation.

The jury found that Lisa Griffey, a probation officer, was discriminated against and harassed because she is black. The jury found that her husband, Cedric Griffey, was retaliated against until he was forced to resign because he and his wife complained about the harassment.

Jonathan Marko, who represented the Griffeys in a six-week trial in Genesee County Circuit Court, said he expects the department will be required to pay an additional $1 million in attorney fees and costs.

Lisa Griffey, who still works for the department, was discriminated against from the moment she transferred in 2014 from a probation office in Detroit to an all-white office in Lapeer, Marko said following the verdict.

Co-workers “called her mammy,” and “asked if she wanted chitlins on her pizza,” among other racial insults, Marko said.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office defended the Corrections Department in the case, said she was “extremely surprised and disappointed” with the verdict.

“We are reviewing our options with our client but we fully expect to appeal,” Rossman-McKinney said.

Lisa Griffey took the transfer because her husband had been promoted to deputy warden at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Marko said. Cedric Griffey had a spotless 29-year record with the department, he said. But soon after he and his wife complained about her treatment, he was brought up on “trumped up” charges alleging he had not properly administered discipline and was eventually forced to resign, he said.

The jury upheld counts of racial harassment and discrimination against Lisa Griffey and retaliation against her husband, Marko said.

Marko said the department tried to smear both employees but jurors instead repudiated the department.

Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, declined comment.