Profile in Brief

John Runyan
Hard Labor

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney John Runyan was drawn to the law in order to help people, especially underdogs. And for almost four decades he has shared that passion with law students as an adjunct professor at his alma mater, Wayne State University Law School.

Runyan, managing director of the Detroit law firm of Sachs Waldman, where he practices union-side labor law and represents employees in employment-related disputes, teaches a class in employment discrimination law.

“I enjoy teaching because it helps me stay current on the law and therefore makes me a better practitioner,” he says. “I also think I’m a better teacher because I actually litigate employment discrimination cases.”

Runyan remembers his own student days as an undergrad at the University of Michigan and then at Wayne Law, where he earned his J.D. cum laude.

“I always had an interest in civil rights, and I worked for the Office of General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C.,” he says.

After clerking for two years for U.S. District Judge Stephen Roth, during the Detroit school desegregation case, Runyan ran the Employment Discrimination Clinic at Wayne Law School, teaching students how to litigate cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That led to his 35-year stint on the adjunct faculty.

“The law that must be covered in a three-hour elective course has expanded exponentially over the past 35 years,” he says. “Not only was there no ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) when I started teaching in 1974, but Congress has also enacted a series of laws designed to overrule a number of Supreme Court decisions, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.”

Runyan started practicing union side labor law in 1977. He joined Sachs Waldman in 1979, became a shareholder in 1984, and has served as the firm’s Managing Director since 1997.

His practice is devoted to the representation of individuals and labor organizations, both public and private sector, in employment related disputes. He has also successfully represented a large number of individual employees before administrative agencies and in both state and federal courts. He serves as the firm’s expert on matters relating to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He has also served as an arbitrator, mediator and facilitator in
employment-related disputes.

One of his largest and most successful cases was representing women in the Detroit Police Department in the case of Schaefer v. Tannian, from 1974 to 1999 when a final judgment was entered. The multi-million dollar case — pending for 25 years — successfully challenged the police department’s discriminatory hiring, assignment, compensation and promotion practices.

“One of the reasons for the case’s duration was the need to conduct over 500 individual hearings to determine when each woman officer would have been hired in the absence of discrimination — essential to determine the seniority relief to which she was entitled,” Runyan says.

Runyan is President of the Board of Trustees of Michigan Indian Legal Services, which he joined when it was first organized in 1975. The organization provides legal services to low-income Indian individuals and tribes to further self-sufficiency, overcome discrimination, assist tribal governments and preserve Indian families.

“I believe that continuity is important on a volunteer board and I’m proud of the fact I’m the only remaining charter member of the Board,” he says.

He also serves on the Board of Governors of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, the Council of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, and as Vice Chair of the State Bar’s Publications and Website Advisory Committee. He has served as president of the Detroit (now Eastern District) Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and as president of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association.

A fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers and a life member of the Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference, Runyan has been listed in each edition of Best Lawyers in America since 1989 and among the Michigan Super Lawyers since its inception in 2006.

A native of St. Joseph on Michigan’s west coast, Runyan has lived in Oakland County’s Lathrup Village since 1978. Ann, his wife of 37 years, is a special education teacher in Farmington Public Schools. The Runyans, proud grandparents of a little girl, have two daughters and a son, all living in Washington, D.C.

In his leisure time, Runyan enjoys woodcarving, fly-fishing, hiking, and time spent in the outdoors, as well as music, and plays the bodhran-a shallow handheld drum — in an Irish band.
  A volunteer in the Reading Corps program of the Detroit Public Schools, Runyan also enjoys First Aid skills that he learned and developed through the Boy Scouts. He regularly teaches First Aid and CPR, and serves as Advancement Chair of the North Star District of the BSA Great Lakes Field Service Council.