Appeals court upholds dismissal of juror’s wrongful termination suit after missing work for jury duty

By Anna Aguillard | Jun 27, 2014

U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has affirmed a district court’s decision dismissing a lawsuit brought by a woman who claims she was wrongfully terminated for attending jury duty.

Wanda Rogers, a former employee of the defendant Bromac Title Services LLC, was summoned for jury service on Aug. 22, 2011. Due to her obligation as a juror, she was unable to work on Fridays, which she stated to be the most popular day to close homes. Rogers alleged that her later termination on April 20, 2012 was a direct result of her inability to work due to jury duty and accused Bromac of violating the Jury System Improvement Act’s (“JSIA”) statute prohibiting the termination of an employee because of a jury obligation.

Bromac, however, alleged two unrelated incidents constituted its reasoning for terminating Rogers. First, Rogers indisputably began a speech at a real estate meeting by stating, “Raise your hand if you have had unprotected sex,” in August of 2011. The second incident allegedly occurred on April 18, 2012 when 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.” Rogers was terminated two days after after the second incident allegedly occurred, according to court documents.

Rogers filed suit under the JSIA and Bromac responded by filing a motion for summary judgment declaring that Rogers’s termination was not because of her jury obligations, but because of her inappropriate workplace behavior. The district court granted Bromac’s motion, and dismissed Rogers’s claim. The district court based its decision primarily on the “but-for” causation standard, a standard that calls for the protected trait (in this case jury service) to have a “determinative influence” on the employee’s termination. The district court found that other factors, particularly Rogers’s unprofessional behavior, caused her to be terminated.

Rogers appealed the district court’s decision, arguing that it incorrectly applied the “but-for” causation and failed to view the circumstantial evidence that her counsel presented in a favorable light.

In an uncontested majority, the court upheld the district court’s application of the “but-for” causation standard to a suit brought under JSIA, citing a preceding application of the standard in a suit brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an act with clearly similar language to the JSIA. Additionally, the court agreed with the district court’s treatment of the circumstantial evidence that the plaintiff presented, ruling that Rogers failed to present “direct evidence linking her termination to her jury service,” thus any “reasonable jury” would have viewed the circumstantial evidence in the same light as the district court.

The case was heard by Circuit Judges Patrick Higginbotham, Edith Brown Clement and Stephen A. Higginson.

Case no 2013-31097.

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