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Williams v. District of Columbia

August 21, 2009

LILLIANN WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Sitting as a juror on a lengthy, difficult, capital case is one of the most challenging, but absolutely critical, civic duties of all citizens. A life is literally in the jury's hands if they find the defendant guilty as charged. The resulting absence from work can aggravate employers and fellow employees. But everyone knows that a juror's job is protected during her absence, right?

LilliAnn Williams-Jackson, Ph.D ("Dr. Jackson") sues the District of Columbia pursuant to the Jury Systems Improvement Act ("Juror Act"), 28 U.S.C. § 1875, alleging that she lost her position as guidance counsel at J.O. Wilson public elementary school in the District of Columbia because her principal was angry that Dr. Jackson served for over four months on a federal jury in a capital case. After a two-day trial and post-trial briefs, the Court took the matter under advisement. This is a close case of mixed motives leading to the decision to "excess" Dr. Jackson from Wilson and one in which Dr. Jackson's credibility is distinctly superior to her former principal. Nonetheless, the Court concludes that Dr. Jackson has not carried her burden to prove that her jury service "was the 'but-for' cause of the challenged adverse employment action." Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., 129 S.Ct. 2343, 2352 (2009).

I. FACTS

Dr. Jackson worked at J.O. Wilson Elementary School for over twenty years, as a teacher from 1987 to 1996 and as the guidance counsel from 1996 to June 2007. She holds a PhD from Michigan State University. Tr. at. 13, June 24, 2008 a.m. (Jackson).*fn1 Cheryl Warley was the principal at J.O. Wilson after 2002. Id. at 15.

A. Jury Duty

Dr. Jackson received a summons for a jury trial in December 2006, immediately reported it to Ms. Warley, and reported for jury selection in early January 2007 in United States v. Gooch, Crim. Action No. 04-128 (RMC). Id. at 19. She completed a questionnaire, which explained, inter alia, that the jury would be sitting on a capital case in which the defendant might face the death penalty. Id. Thereafter, Dr. Jackson was recalled and seated on the jury. Trial began on February 7, 2007. As soon as she got home on the evening of February 7, Dr. Jackson called the school to tell Ms. Warley that she had been seated on the jury but Ms. Warley had already left for the day. Id. at 20. Dr. Jackson called Ms. Warley at home and notified her that she had been selected to serve on the jury. Id. Dr. Jackson advised Ms. Warley that the trial was "expected to last anywhere between four and six months" and that Dr. Jackson "would serve on Monday through Thursday" and "would be in the building on Fridays." Id.

Ms. Warley made it clear that she was unhappy with Dr. Jackson's absence. Where they once had had a cordial professional relationship, Ms. Worley essentially stopped speaking to Dr. Jackson. Id. at 16 ("Ms. Warley stopped speaking to me. I would speak to her, she would not speak to me. . . . She would look right at me and not acknowledge me."). During a faculty meeting, Ms. Warley announced that Dr. Jackson had volunteered to serve on the jury, suggesting she was not dedicated to her job. Id. at 26. Ms. Warley also called this Court's Jury Office to find out if Dr. Jackson were really on jury duty and, if so, why was it taking so long. Id. at 27-28. This conduct sank to a very petty level when Ms. Warley told Dr. Jackson that she could no longer store her purse in the school office, which, without a locked cabinet in her office, Dr. Jackson had been doing for twelve or thirteen years. Id. at 28-30.*fn2

The Gooch trial ended in June of 2007 and Dr. Jackson returned to J.O. Wilson full-time. To her surprise, upon her return, she was handed a performance appraisal, which was premature. "Based on the Washington Teachers Union guidelines if you receive an[] exceed[s] expectation[s] rating, you are only required to be evaluated every three years," and Dr. Jackson had been rated "exceeds expectations" in an evaluation for the school year 2005-2006. Id. at 17-18. After her jury service, however, she unexpectedly received a performance evaluation with a lower rating. Id. at 31. She asked to speak with Ms. Warley and was ignored for a few days until "Ms. Warley just burst in [to Dr. Jackson's office] and said you weren't here and I'm not going to do your work." Id. at 32. Ms. Warley then complained "that there w[ere] some SSTs*fn3 that had not been processed properly and that Dr. Harlan who is the school psychologist on the multi disciplinary team had called downtown and said that there was a problem and the whole team had come from the special education department to J.O. Wilson to fix this problem." Id. Ms. Warley refused to retract or change the evaluation. Id. at 33.

However, when Dr. Jackson re-checked the students' folders that had supposedly been changed, she could find no changes. Id. at 34 ("I didn't see any new information, any of my information that had been revised or anything."). Upon Dr. Jackson's complaint, a Union representative contacted Ms. Warley who then changed the performance evaluation and gave a copy to Dr. Jackson.

[T]he next thing I know Ms. Warley called me on the telephone. She was in the main office. I was in my office. And she said do you want me to shred this evaluation or do you want it? And I said I'll come up to the main office. I want it.

And when I got up there, it wasn't the original evaluation that Mrs. Johnson had presented to me . . . . That one was a three page carbonless one, but the one Ms. Warley was presenting to me was like a computer generated one. Just one single sheet. And where it had meets expectation[s], she scratched that, then she put an X over by exceeds expectation[s].

So I asked Ms. Warley, where is the evaluation that was presented at first? This is not the one. And she said this is the one. I said this is not the one. And she said it is.

And I said you have marked two places here, how would anyone know which one is the correct evaluation? There was a check marked between in front of [sic] exceeds expectation[s] and a check mark in front of meets expectation[s]. So then she just ...


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