In this sexual harassment action, plaintiff claims to have suffered an adverse employment action as a consequence of a prior romantic relationship with one of the defendants, MCL 37.2103(i)(ii), and a hostile work environment, MCL 37.2103(i)(iii). We conclude that plaintiff's complaint does not allege facts sufficient to show sexual harassment under either theory and, therefore, fails as a matter of law. We reverse the Court of Appeals decision pertaining to plaintiff's sexual harassment claims and reinstate the trial court's order granting summary disposition for defendants.
I. Facts and Procedural History
Plaintiff and defendant Joseph Smith were employed by the Detroit Board of Education to work in its adult education program at the Golightly Vocational Center. Plaintiff was employed part-time
Plaintiff filed suit, claiming sexual harassment, breach of contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Regarding the sexual harassment claim, plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to two species of harassment prohibited by the Michigan Civil Rights Act: a hostile working environment, MCL 37.2103(i)(iii), and quid pro quo sexual harassment, MCL 37.2103(i)(ii). Pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (10), the circuit court granted defendants' motion for summary disposition, ruling that plaintiff failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted and that there was no genuine issue of material fact.
The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.
II. Standard of Review
This Court reviews de novo the resolution of a summary disposition motion.
A motion "under MCR 2.116(C)(8) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint on the basis of the pleadings alone."
"A motion under MCR 2.116(C)(10) tests the factual sufficiency of the complaint."
We turn initially to whether plaintiff alleges facts sufficient under MCR 2.116(C)(10) to establish a claim of sexual harassment actionable under either a quid pro quo theory or a hostile work environment theory, MCL 37.2103(i)(ii), (iii).
"Sexual harassment" is defined in MCL 37.2103(i) as:
* * *
Thus, as a threshold matter, plaintiff must allege facts showing that she was subjected to "unwelcome sexual advances," "requests for sexual favors," or "conduct or communication of a sexual nature" before she can establish actionable sexual harassment under a hostile work environment theory or a quid pro quo theory. MCL 37.2103(i).
Plaintiff does not contend that defendants made either unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. We thus turn to the third element of MCL 37.2103(i) to determine if she was subjected to "conduct or communication of a sexual nature." "Sexual nature" is not defined in the statute. Where a term is not defined in the statute, we will review its ordinary dictionary meaning for guidance.
After their intimate relationship ended, their working relationship became difficult, but defendant Smith's alleged threats that he would fire plaintiff if she interfered with his new relationship were not inherently sexual in nature. Verbal or physical conduct or communication that is not sexual in nature is not sexual harassment.
Regarding defendant Finch, plaintiff alleges that Finch contributed to a hostile work environment by engaging in "catty" conversations about plaintiff and by causing plaintiff's work station to be relocated. As discussed above, plaintiff must establish that the asserted conduct or communication were of a sexual nature. That is, that Finch's conduct or communication inherently pertained to sex. Here, the asserted communication by Finch conveyed nothing more than Finch's personal animosity towards plaintiff. MCL 37.2103(i) does not forbid the communication of enmity between romantic rivals, even if the predicate for the dislike is sexual competition, as long as the conduct or communication is not inherently sexual. In summary, what may have been sexual in this case did not involve harassment, while what did involve harassment was not sexual. It cannot be said by any understanding of the language of MCL 37.2103 that plaintiff was subject to "sexual harassment." Thus, we conclude that plaintiff has failed to meet the threshold requirement to establish sexual harassment by Finch because this connection between sex and the alleged conduct and communication is missing.
Plaintiff's claim fails as a matter of law because she has not established evidence of conduct or communication of a "sexual nature" as required to support a claim of sexual harassment. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals with respect to plaintiff's sexual harassment claims and reinstate the circuit court's order granting summary disposition for defendants under MCR 2.116(C)(10).
MAURA D. CORRIGAN, ELIZABETH A. WEAVER, CLIFFORD W. TAYLOR, ROBERT P. YOUNG, JR., and STEPHEN J. MARKMAN, JJ., concur.
MICHAEL F. CAVANAGH, J. (dissenting).
I respectfully dissent. While the majority sees fit to dispose of this case by an opinion per curiam after a perfunctory fifteen minutes of oral argument on the application, I believe that defendant's application
I am unclear whether the result reached by the majority is correct. Additionally, I am troubled by the majority's quick resort to the dictionary, without any consideration of the purpose or principles underlying Michigan's Civil Rights Act and without any examination of the federal cases that have considered this issue. Therefore, I must respectfully dissent because this Court, and the parties, would be better served by granting defendant's application for leave.
MARILYN J. KELLY, agrees.