For the past two weeks my life has been dominated by my civic duties. I was called as a juror on April 1st, and the date would prove monumentally accurate...that is, it turned into a very poorly done practical joke.
The case I was selected for was a civil case; it was a lawsuit alleging age discrimination, gender discrimination, and unlawful job place harassment. I would say those are serious allegations.
Based on my previous jury experience, I was always going to have a tough time getting deliberately dismissed...I believe people like myself willing and able to set aside personal prejudices in favor of delivering a fair verdict based on presented facts are necessary. So lets take a look at some of the reasons people used to get out of jury duty.
"I don't believe anyone should ever sue anyone for any reason whatsoever."
"I think it is ridiculous to ask for 9 million dollars and I am so prejudiced against the plaintiff I could never be fair." (Two people used this one).
"I am a small business owner and hate all big businesses." (Note: Where do you get the product you supply? The parts and pieces that make it up? Going out on a limb here...you hate big businesses when it is convenient to do so and when you want out of jury duty)
"Defendant is the evil empire."
"They are not suing Defendant Inc, they are suing Defendant HIM, a subsidiary"
"I hate Defendant so much I could never be impartial towards them."
A few others nearly as bad. There were a couple I thought were legitimate and several (such as the ones above) I found so ridiculously transparent as not wanting to be on a jury I wanted to hit them between the eyes with their stupidity.
So the Plaintiff's attorney had his opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions. He had every...single...one of us...28 in the initial batch...18 in the replacement batch...may have been another group added...what something was we enjoyed doing.
Best/worst answer? Taking care of feral cats. REMEMBER: The question is what they enjoyed doing. Wow. Just...wow. Spoiler alert; she ended up on the jury. She sat at the end of the row in a special chair to accommodate a pillow. It was difficult getting in and out of the row past her. She insisted on being the first one seated. She should have been the last one seated. On a completely unrelated note...I hope to never encounter her again.
He asked zero questions related to the trial at hand. My trouble flag started its first attempt to raise.
The defense attorney asked questions about HR experience, difficulties with bosses, discrimination...you know, stuff related to the topic we would spend two weeks investigating. One side has an early lead...
On the Plaintiff side was jury make-up...including the alternate, 8 women and 5 men, so theoretically sympathetic to a woman being discriminated and harassed.
Regardless, by the end of the day 13 of us were selected...12 jurors and 1 alternate.
Plaintiff's attorney starts out talking about how the operations manager would wander around the plant with a black bat, waving it around, and it made the plaintiff nervous, she once asked to hold it, later he was given a plastic bat. She had to challenge her employee rating three times, once having it overturned. She was victimized by a "Good Old Boys" club, when she was out on medical leave, they replaced her with a younger male. She was on medical leave after being threatened physically and cursed at heavily.
Wow. Serious stuff. What is the defense thinking?
Defense makes their statements and I have a pretty good idea the trial is already over. They address every point and already I think it is going to come down to a he said/she said credibility check on one specific meeting and whether we believe he yelled, screamed, and cursed at her.
So then the judge points out that in pre-trial, the bat and the psychological issue were ruled inadmissible and will not be part of the trial.
So the first witness is the plant manager. Remember, these are the PLAINTIFF'S witnesses. He praises the plaintiff as a very hard, talented worker who was very effective. The questions are bouncing back from 2005 to 2011 randomly with no discernible pattern and it is very confusing.
Meanwhile, as he would with virtually every witness, the lawyer had this or a similar exchange:
"When you had a conversation with X, and you talked about Y..."
"Ok." Pursed lips, look of disgust, letting us jurors know the judge was being unfair.
"Did you have a conversation with X?"
"In that conversation, was such and such said?"
"Did you have a conversation with Z about..."
"Did you have a conversation with Z?"
"In that conversation, was such and such said?"
"Sustained. It's hearsay."
Over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over.
Finally the plaintiff's attorney presents an email. Aha, some actual evidence.
See, plant manager had a habit of walking the floor and talking to every employee as part of their version of LEAN manufacturing. One day he asked a guy working on a machine a question about it. The plaintiff then sent the branch manager an e-mail telling him if he had questions of people on her team to come to her, not them.
What? Isn't that kind of proving the case AGAINST your client that she wasn't part of their work culture?
Then followed a series of questions: Have you ever used the F-bomb? Have you ever cursed in front of an employee? No, no, etc.
Plaintiff's lawyer tries to bring up the bat about 4 times, instant objection, instant sustain, instructions to jury to disregard.
Asks the plant manager various questions about employee's ages. he doesn't know. Asks who was paid how much. He doesn't know.
Thing is...the branch manager was showing poorly for knowledge on certain things...but believable. Payroll for hundreds of people, maybe he would or would not know people 2-3 levels down from him...same with age.
Cross examination was mostly how much input he had on the ratings given. Very little, that was the managers job.
Most witnesses saw same questions with virtually same response; no, they had not heard the two guys mostly being assailed ever curse, yell, scream, in fact they universally thought the bosses were great but had major communications issues with the plaintiff, a notorious micro-manager who rejected the corporate culture because she wanted total command and control.
Wait...these are the PLAINTIFF'S witnesses? Because they SOUND like the defense's witnesses...
The manger is interviewed. And the plaintiff's lawyer, in a major "gotchya" moment, shows a picture of him with a beard. "I notice you shaved."
We all look at each other with that, "What?" look.
"Yes, I grow a beard every year for hunting season and shave after it."
And yet the lawyer makes a huge deal of this, showing us how intimidating he looks with a beard. Think a kindly grandfather with a snow-white beard and you get the gist. Wow. Strike 27. And we are just 2 or 3 witnesses in so far.
So the plaintiff brings in a third-party recruiter. he points out he does NOTHING with internal hiring, he only comes into play if they cannot find a suitable candidate internally.
Plaintiffs Lawyer: "So did you see my client's resume for job A?"
"No, unless the hiring manager asked me to, I wouldn't."
"Did you interview my client for that position?"
"Did you see my client's resume for position B?"
"Did you interview her for that position?"
"Did you see my client's resume for job 3?"
He introduces an email sent from the recruiter. It is a form rejection letter. "So you didn't see her resume?"
"It is attached to this rejection letter."
Uh-oh...they got him.
Recruiter: "It is a form letter. I never opened the resume because she, being an internal employee, was not someone I would look at unless the hiring manager specifically requested me to do so."
Lawyer: "So even though you had her resume, you never opened it?"
"I had no need to."
"And you never interviewed her for the position?"
Wow, we are just going in circles here.
Finally, the defense interviews him.
"Do you know (branch manager)?"
"Do you know (her manager)?"
names every co-worker involved in case, followed by no.
"No further questions".
We jurors are staring at each other. What did this guy have to do with anything? He doesn't work their internal employees, knows NONE of the players...what on earth?
The plaintiff's call her immediate subordinate who had filed a complaint against her. Subordinate is a great witness...for the defense. Backs up EVERY claim the defense had made...plaintiff was micro-manager who had difficult communication style that did not fit the established corporate culture of open communication between everyone. The clients' boss was easy going, great boss. No, never heard either of them curse. No, never heard of an "Old Boys Network" and never experienced it.
And so it went. Witness after witness saying the same things. Yes, the Plaintiff was hard-working, a good employee, sure, had a couple issues like micro-managing and could be difficult to communicate with, no, they had never heard the two primary defendants curse, threaten anyone, shout...
As we turned into week two we were still waiting for the bombshell that would turn all this on its head and tell us what the lawsuit was about.
Age discrimination? Well, one person had been hired younger than the client...but she was saying her advanced age (48 or 49, somewhere in there) was preventing her from advancing.
Gender discrimination? Well...2 of the 3 people in her position were female, in fact over half the plant was female in positions on every level.
Harassment? Everyone was disputing her claims...and they were HER witnesses.
So we start discussing a fateful moment. After she sent her e-mail telling her bosses' boss to go through her to talk to her people, her boss called her into his office to discuss that e-mail. See, from her very first performance review six years ago, on EVERY performance review he had addressed an ongoing problem; she needed to develop a better work/life balance and needed to let other people have input and communication.
This was documented by the items the plaintiff had admitted as evidence.
So he was talking to her about it and said, "You just aren't getting it. I feel like I have to hit you between the eyes with it to get you to understand."
The meeting was supposed to last about an hour. It lasted an indeterminate time (stricken evidence indicated 10 minutes but who knows) she stormed out. She called the HR manager and they talked for 10-15 minutes. She said she felt her e-mail was misunderstood and that was the extent of her complaint.
Worked the rest of the day. Worked the next day. Talked again to the HR manager who asked her what her complaint about how it was received was and asked for a formal complaint which was never filed. Went out on medical leave and never worked another day there.
Turns out she was having relationship problems at the same time (the defense was prevented from bringing this up. The plaintiff's lawyer had her intake form admitted which told us this and under problems with job it said "none". Smoking gun evidence...for the defense. But presented by the plaintiff.)
After 3-4 months her doctor referred her to a psychologist. 2 months later she decided she had been threatened physically when he threatened to hit him between the eyes, that he had stood over her, pounded his hand on the desk, cursed at her and threatened to hit her.
The first time this was ever mentioned was 6 months later.
Oh, one of the Plaintiff's witnesses, whose office was next to the guy accused of this had mentioned if he had ever yelled it would have been heard by them all because the walls were "paper thin". Additionally, every witness the plaintiff called testified under oath they had never seen him yell, curse, threaten or intimidate.
So finally they call the plaintiff herself to testify.
And she pretty much repeats everything everyone else had testified, albeit with a couple breaks for tears. In one of those breaks I saw her peak out to see if the jury was looking at her and, seeing most of us were, take her hand away and turn her face so we could see she was crying. It was so stage-managed I could not believe it.
Anyway, the lawyer goes through this long, complicated deal trying to show how much lower her income is now than it was. Problem: she made, according to her pay statement, 86,000 and change. Her new job paid 91,000 the first year plus paid overtime which this job did not. Interesting math to consider that a pay cut.
So the cumulative evidence presented by the plaintiff when he was done with his witnesses:
She was a hard-working, valuable and valued employee who did a great job on the business side but struggled to communicate with superiors, employees under her and the people in the same position. There had been a poorly worded e-mail sent that they had addressed and put in place a plan for training that was essentially a promotion according to everyone interviewed. In other words, she took something minor and turned it into something that ended her career.
There was zero evidence of age discrimination, quite the contrary.
There was zero evidence of gender discrimination, quite the contrary.
There were about a dozen people who testified there was no history or evidence of profanity, threatening, or voice-raising.
And the plaintiff has rested their case. I am thinking they did a great job of presenting the defense's case and if the defense calls nobody, simply rests, our deliberations will take about this long: "Anyone for the plaintiff? Okay, case dismissed."
We are saved the trouble. The judge dismissed the case as the plaintiff had not provided sufficient evidence to prove their claims.
I had the good fortune to talk to him after it; he concurred with my assessment that most if not all of the witnesses had more or less proved the defense case, that there was no evidence on behalf of the plaintiff. I had to admit curiosity about the bat.
See, in production meetings...which entailed numerous people...the plant manager had a habit of toying with a baseball bat. When a new person came into the company and complained about it, he stopped the habit. Later he was given a plastic bat from someone who knew he was a Cubs fan and had gone to a Chicago Cub game and gave it to him as a gift. He then toyed with that.
Not one person had ever been or felt threatened by it. It took nearly 6 years after the habit had stopped for it to become an issue.
Wow. What a colossal waste of my time. I am a dedicated worker. I habitually stayed up 3-4 hours after I got home working, was getting up at 4 to go in to work and stay caught up, was working through the breaks and lunch while at jury duty. I have been short of sleep for two weeks.
So let me give you the actual timeline devoid of court-speak.
Employee has e-mail exchange with bosses boss. Is called to account for not buying into corporate culture. Works another day. More than likely has argument with significant other. Stressed her so much she starts taking medication. Things get worse. Doctor forwards her to psychologist. Has been off work for months now. Time for yearly pay statement. Has not been at work, received pay statement with low rating, decides all the fault lies in the meaning. Decides the statement "I need to hit you between the eyes with this for you to get it" means he was ACTUALLY, PHYSICALLY going to strike her, decides he was yelling and cursing, that everything that has gone wrong is because there is a good old boys network that results in age and discrimination, finds a lawyer willing to try and twist the evidence to reflect that, starts looking around for other proofs and recalls the bat from now 8 years ago...
Wastes several hours of my life over the course of a week and a half in a ridiculous lawsuit with no foundation, no evidence, and that contradicts all available evidence. Wow. Just...wow.
On the bright side, there were some funny moments...like the defense lawyer objecting to a document....that she herself later submitted as evidence. I guess she didn't really object to it...
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