Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jury Foreperson in Johnson-Klein Case Files Retaliation Case of Her Own

Yesterday, the woman who served as the foreperson of the jury in Stacy Johnson-Klein's discrimination case against Fresno State filed a retaliation case of her own, alleging that she was fired because of her jury service. The former juror, Yolanda Cerrillo, was the assistant principal at West Park Elementary School, outside Fresno. She claims that she was fired two days after returning to work, despite exemplary service in the past.

Though it's not clear from the news report I read, it seems her claim is that she was targeted because of the verdict that the jury reached -- $19 million for Johnson-Klein (later reduced) -- and not the fact of her jury service for the two-month trial, which would have required her to miss a ton of work.

But either way, I think her claim is covered by the California law that governs public schools (Education Code s. 44037), which states:
It is unlawful for ... any school district to ... discriminate against any employee with respect to assignment, employment, promotion, or in any other manner because of such employee's service on any jury panel.
Though juror protection statutes like this are most frequently used to ensure that jurors don't get fired or lose pay for taking time off to serve on the jury, the statutory language "because of such employee's service on any jury panel" seems broad enough to cover retaliation motivated by the jury's result in addition to the act of service itself.

As in any retaliation case, the hard part for the plaintiff will be proving a causal connection between the protected activity (serving on a jury and rendering a verdict) and the adverse employment action she experienced -- especially if the school district argues convincingly that she was fired for some other, permissible, reason.