Labor intensive: Employment law authority was featured on Court TV


 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Illegal fishing, “deer shining” and “game violations” were among Bob Palmer’s first forays into the legal world as an intern at a prosecutor’s office in the Upper Peninsula. 
“The prosecutor was part-time, so I got a lot of experience,” says Palmer, since 2002 a partner at Pitt, McGehee, Palmer, Rivers, and Golden in Royal Oak, an expert in the field of employment law—and once a “star” of a trial on Court TV.
A big fan in boyhood of the TV shows, “The Bold Ones,” “The Defenders” and “Judd for the Defense,” Palmer set his career sights as early as grade school on becoming a criminal lawyer. But with no other lawyers in the family as role models or mentors, he wasn’t sure how to achieve his goal—and decided on two years of general education in college before earning an undergrad degree in business administration from Wayne State University. 
“My brother-in-law was a CPA, and I thought I’d get a practical degree in the business program, but I absolutely didn’t like accounting,” he says.
Wayne was also his choice for law school, where he got into the Prosecuting Attorneys Association Program. After graduating magna cum laude, he spent five years mainly handling criminal defense work. 
He began his career at Colista, Green, Green, & Adams, which ultimately became Green, Green, Adams, & Palmer. He mainly did general work until two cases helped drive his career into employment law. 
“I hadn’t studied labor or employment law in law school,” he says. “I was a trial attorney and fell into employment law as a result of these two cases.”
In the first, he was retained as a special attorney general for the Wayne County Circuit Court chief judge to defend the Wayne County Friend of the Court’s Office in a complex employment action brought by a court employee. Palmer tried the case against Michael Pitt, his current partner at Pitt Law.
At the same time, a colleague was handling a case against the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office, revolving around whether an assistant prosecutor had been unfairly demoted; the prosecutor insisted this was not a demotion, but simply a move to a particular division due to a manpower need. 
“When I heard the attorneys talking about it, I knew how a prosecutor’s office worked, and that the practical effect of the move was a negative career move for this person,” Palmer says. 
When his colleague left the firm, he took over the case with his extensive background in criminal law and prosecutor’s offices.
As a result of this initial case against the Genesee County Prosecutor, Palmer went on to start representing prosecutors. He subsequently sued the successor prosecutor in Genesee County in another case; and as a result had a smattering of public employees as clients, including prosecutors.
A case against the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, in which Palmer represented a woman who had been demoted after she complained of discrimination and of not being given access to her employment file, was televised on Court TV. 
“I don’t know why they thought it was so interesting but they did, and they televised the whole trial from start to finish, about two to three weeks,” he says. “Attorneys would come up to me on the street and they had watched it and seen me on TV—it was my Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame.”
At the end of each day, a team of analysts in a booth would go over events. 
“It was like the analysis of a sports match,” Palmer says. “In fact, their analysis was way off, in terms of what they thought was important. Their analysis really didn’t play well into the actual strategy of the case. They had it wrong, but it was interesting to go in the booth every day and ask, ‘What did you think about this or that?’ It was like adding another pair of eyes.”
The defense attorney got even more analysis—this time, from the home front, Palmer notes. 
“It was funny—he kept getting critiqued by his mother or grandmother, who would call him up and say, “Why did you let him do this, why did you say that?’”
When the case was over, the judge received a couple of copies of the VCR of the trial and gave one to Palmer. 
“It has sat in my closet ever since, gathering dust—I never watched it,” Palmer says.
Focusing his practice on employment litigation—with a secondary focus on victims’ rights, including personal injury, medical malpractice, police misconduct, and civil rights violations—Palmer has argued employment discrimination cases in the 6th Circuit Court and the Michigan Supreme Court, and has represented criminal defendants in high profile cases in the greater Metropolitan area. He is an expert in the areas of sexual harassment and social media and the law.
In 2010, he was elected to the American College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, a prestigious national organization that includes both sides of the bar, traditional labor, employment litigation, and judicial members such as arbitrators and judges. Other kudos includes listings in Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyers, and Montcalm’s Who’s Who in North America.
A former President of the Barrister’s Association/Young Lawyers Section of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, Palmer also served two full terms on the State Bar of Michigan Labor and Employment Council. 
“It was very rewarding and allowed me to participate in planning educational seminars, and to interact with both sides of the law,” he says. He is also a frequent presenter at seminars pertaining to trial advocacy, presented through the council, or the Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE).
He also serves as special independent counsel to the Detroit City Council, advising them on various legal matters, specifically those that center upon issues involving separation of powers and city government. He has represented council members since 1982, when then-Mayor Coleman Young refused to enforce the council’s Squatter Ordinance allowing people to restore foreclosed homes, get ownership interest, and finally acquire the buildings. 
“There was no mechanism at that time to allow City Council to hire a lawyer—they were supposed to use the law department, but the mayor was also using it,” Palmer explains.
Palmer and his partner, the late F. Philip Colista were retained to represent the council—with respect to their ability to sue and enforce their own ordinances, and also their right to go out and retain counsel. 
“We litigated that successfully and the court ruled they had an absolute right to retain counsel, and the mayor had to enforce the ordinance,” Palmer says. “The City Charter was subsequently amended to provide that City Council has the right to retain outside counsel.”
Since then, Palmer has been hired by the City Council in a dozen different pieces of litigation between the council and the administrative branch of city government dealing with separation of powers. He has worked with many administrations, and developed good relationships with council presidents, dating as far back to Mayor Coleman Young’s administration.
In one case, he successfully defended the council in a lawsuit brought by the governor and the State of Michigan to enforce legislation that dictated Detroit Council elections were to be voted only district, rather than at large. Palmer took this case to the Supreme Court and proved that the legislation proposed at that time was unconstitutional.
“I’ve worked with the City Council for years, the cases did not deal with the politics of their decisions, but rather with their right to make those decisions,” he says. “It was another area I never thought I would have any exposure to when I went to law school. I also would have thought it would be incredibly boring work, because there are no depositions or trials, it’s all affidavits and legal pleadings and arguments and analysis of power—but it’s pretty interesting.”
A Detroit native and graduate of Detroit Public Schools, Palmer now lives in Grosse Pointe Woods, with his wife Gemma. An avid sports nut, he plays on three softball teams, two tennis leagues, plays golf, and enjoys any type of sporting activity.
He and his colleagues give back to the community in many ways including volunteering at a local soup kitchen, building for Habitat for Humanity, and donating children’s bicycle helmets; and Palmer sponsored a teen-ager from his church for the June “Freedom Tour” of the Deep South, led by his colleague, civil rights attorney, Cary McGehee.