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Employer had enough cause to fire worker despite grand jury service: Court


A terminated title company worker has failed to establish she was fired because of her grand jury service rather than for other, legitimate reasons, says an appeals court, in upholding her dismissal.

Wanda Rogers worked as a closing officer for Bromac Title Services L.L.C., a real estate closing firm, in Mandeville, Louisiana from April 2009 until April 2012, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Wanda Rogers v Bromac Title Services, L.L.C, et al.

On Aug. 19, 2011 she was summoned to jury services, and after her first appearance on Aug. 22, 2011 she informed her co-workers and supervisors via email that she was selected as an alternate grand juror, and her service would end on Feb. 19, 2012.

However, on Oct. 13, 2011, she was selected to be active member of the grand jury. In mid-February, she informed her employers her grand jury service was extended until Aug. 19, 2012.

Until her termination, she missed eight Fridays because of her jury service. She said the uncertainty of her availability on those days affected her ability to schedule and participate in closings scheduled for Friday, which she said is the most popular day to close a home purchase, according to the ruling.

Meanwhile, she was involved in two incidents that Bromac identified as the reason for her termination. In August 2011, during a meeting with real estate agents from New Orleans-based Latter & Blum Inc., with whom her firm had recently entered into a joint venture, she opened her talk by saying, “Raise your hand if you have had unprotected sex,” according to the ruling.

The second incident occurred in April, 2012, when at another meeting with Latter & Blum Associates, she said, “You guys know you are always welcome to call me after hours or on weekends. I always answer my phone unless I’m drinking,” according to the ruling. She was fired two days later, on April 20, 2012.

Ms. Rogers filed suit against Bromac under the Jury System Improvement Act, claiming she was impermissibly terminated because of her jury service. The Federal District court in New Orleans granted Bromac’s motion to dismiss the case.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld its ruling. Ms. Rogers “identifies circumstantial evidence that she claims shows Bromac’s discriminatory motive,” including statements that she should have gotten out of jury service, and other negative statements about her service, the ruling says.

However, “even accepting her version of facts, Rogers failed to create a genuine dispute that (Bromac) terminated her by reason of her jury service, or that their stated reason for terminating her was merely pretext,” said the ruling.

She “sets forth no direct evidence linking her termination to her jury service. And while it is not impossible for a plaintiff to make such a showing based on circumstantial evidence alone, Rogers’ evidence of discriminatory motive requires a factfinder to make numerous inferences based on conclusion allegations and unsupported assertions,” said the panel.

“While a factfinder could infer an illegal motive from the fact that she was fired two months after informing Bromac that her grand jury service was extended, any inference would be negated by the fact that she was terminated two days after her second inappropriate comment,” said the panel, in affirming the District Court’s ruling dismissing the case.