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Michigan Attorneys Win Law Review Award for Civil Rights Brief

LANSING – Four attorneys from the Michigan Attorney General’s office were recently honored with a Distinguished Brief Award from the 37th Annual Western Michigan University (WMU) Thomas M. Cooley Law Review. The Award was presented at a remote ceremony on March 3rd, where Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein was the keynote speaker and members of the judiciary were present.

“I’m incredibly proud of our attorneys who worked collaboratively on this award-winning brief,” said Nessel. “This recognition demonstrates the power of good legal briefing and how impactful it can be in shaping the law. I can honestly say that my office has some of the best attorneys in the country. They show their dedication to the people of this state each and every day. Their brief was instrumental to our victory.”

The attorneys receiving this award were Solicitor General Ann Sherman, Assistant Solicitor General Chris Allen, and Assistant Attorneys General Kyla Barranco and Tonya Jeter.

These attorneys drafted the Michigan Supreme Court brief in the Rouch World, LLC v. Department of Civil Rights case decided in July 2022. The brief argued that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of discrimination “because of . . . sex” necessarily encompassed sexual-orientation discrimination because those concepts are intertwined. By simple logic, one cannot define a person’s sexual orientation without knowing that person’s sex, so any adverse action on account of a person’s sexual orientation implicates their sex, and thus the Michigan statute’s protections.”

The brief also pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis in Bostock v Clayton Co., 140 S Ct 1731 (2020), which held that the identical statutory phrase in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act encompassed sexual orientation discrimination. The Michigan Supreme Court agreed, holding that “[d]iscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex” and is a violation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act’s protections.

The panel involved in selecting the brief for this prestigious award was comprised of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan K. Cavanagh, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth M. Welch, Judge Amy Ronayne Krause, Judge Anica Letica, Judge Michelle M. Rick, Judge Michael J. Riordan, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, and WMU-Cooley Professor Christi Henke.


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