The right to a jury trial depends on a number of factors, including the type of remedies requested, whether a case is filed in federal or state court, and whether the request is timely made. A recent Michigan state case discussed the right to jury trial in a Michigan court. The plaintiff had filed claims against his employer for wrongful termination based on religious discrimination and to terminate a noncompete agreement. Both claims were tried in a “bench trial”, that is, the case was tried without a jury, even though the plaintiff had asked for a jury trial. Benjamin v. Savin Lake Services, Inc., Case No.304246 (Mich. Ct. App. June 12, 2012)
The right to jury trial in cases filed in federal court is controlled by the United States Constitution and federal law. In federal court, a jury decides the facts when a plaintiff seeks a remedy for money damages, but when a plaintiff seeks “equitable relief” — that is, remedies such as an injunction — a judge decides whether the facts show that the remedy is warranted.
In this case, the plaintiff appealed the trial judge’s denial of a jury to decide his wrongful discharge claim. The Michigan court of appeals judges explained that the Michigan constitution puts the burden on the parties to ask for a jury trial. In other words, the default is a trial decided by the judge. In this case, the court of appeals decided that the trial judge erred by not having a jury decide the wrongful termination claim. The judges ordered a new trial. When the case is retried, a jury will decide the wrongful discharge claim and remedy, and a judge will decide whether the noncompete clause will be terminated.
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