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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Alabama Jury Service is Protected Finds Federal-Mogul


Alabama Jury Service is Protected Finds Federal-Mogul
Alabama@Work
Tommy Eden, Attorney
Rebecca Boutwell, an Alabama factory worker was found entitled to a jury trial of her Alabama state law claim that Federal-Mogul Corp. fired her solely because she served on a Limestone County Circuit Court jury. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta recently ruled that there was creditable evidence that she complied with the call-in procedure but was still fired while actively serving on a jury.
Kelly Services assigned Boutwell to Federal-Mogul's Athens facility on the 11 pm - 7 am shift Sunday evening through Friday morning. Shortly after she started Boutwell was summoned to appear for jury duty. Her Federal-Mogul supervisor told her that she was excused from working the night shift before her Monday morning court appearance, but that she would be required to call on Monday if she was picked to serve on a jury, and would have to call in each day she was required to serve on the jury. Boutwell was selected to serve on the jury. She called Federal-Mogul's main telephone line and left messages on Monday and Tuesday that she would be reporting to the courtroom until the trial ended. Company policy was that employees were required to call in absences to a supervisor's cell phone, not the main line, but that issue was hotly disputed. On Thursday her Supervisor reported to Federal-Mogul that Boutwell had not called in and she was fired.
Boutwell later filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit against Federal-Mogul and Kelly Services in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama and both companies filed motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. Boutwell appealed to the 11th Circuit which held that under Alabama law, an at-will worker may be terminated by an employer for any reason, or for no reason at all. However, Code of Alabama § 12-16-8.1(a), provides that “[n]o employer in this state may discharge any employee or subject any employee to an adverse employment action solely because he or she serves on any jury empaneled under any state/federal statute.” The 11th Circuit found an issue of fact in that Boutwell produced home telephone records showing that she had made calls to the main number several times during her absence. Summary judgment for Kelly Services was upheld because it later offered to place her in another position.
Common Sense Counsel: Courts at all levels are highly protective of jurors. The Jury system is the bedrock of the American Judicial System and is one of the most protected employment categories by Judges. All Alabama employers should have a jury service policy in conformity with the law. Think long and hard before you take any adverse employment action during active jury service or in close proximity to jury service.
Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com