Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Reluctant Juror and the Case of the Banished Baristas

(Image from:  Obvious State--Paris Noir)

The Backstory:

This isn't the first time I received a summons for jury duty.  The previous occasion was about eight years ago, when I first started working for WA State Emergency Management Division.  I was in the middle of my training, so my boss at the time wrote the Pierce County Court asking that I be excused.

Fast forward eight years.  My current boss happened to walk in to the Alert and Warning Center (A&WC) when I was busy...

(Image from:  FStoppers--Beautiful Film Noir Inspired Portraits)

...and informed me it was department policy that we all fulfill our civic duties.  So there was no exemptions for me this time.

My wife on the other hand, loves jury duty.  She was actually disappointed she didn't get to sit-in on a trial during her stint... 

(Image from:  Picture Correct--How to Use a Snoot for Portrait Lighting)
...and was wishing she could join me on this case. Unfortunately, the Pierce County Court System wouldn't allow for substitutions.

So every morning for nearly a week-and-a-half, I would kiss my wife good bye, go to a gym near downtown Tacoma for a quick workout...

(Image from: TV Tropes--Noir City)
 ...and then make my way to the courthouse for the trial, which I'll refer to as:

The Case of the Banished Baristas

(Image from:  Pix Good--Femme Fatale Fashion Trend)
Our jury was composed of myself, six other guys and five women (one woman was an alternate, who was dismissed prior to deliberations).  When we weren't listening to testimony, we were cooped-up in the courthouse's smallest Jury Deliberation Room.

Here's the best summary I could come up with for this convoluted case:

Two plaintiffs, I'll unimaginatively call "Barista A" and "Barista B," were suing The Owner of The Cafe for sexual harassment and being wrongfully fired back in 2013.

I'll start with Barista A...

She was seeking monetary compensation for the pain & suffering she endured for her unjust termination.  She already won a case against The Owner for sexual harassment and was awarded compensation for lost tips & wages.

During her stay at The Cafe, she was constantly harassed by her ex-boyfriend.  According to Barista A, The Owner promised her he'd be able to protect her from The Ex.  However, the harassment continued, even when Barista A complained to The Manager--who just so happened to be The Ex's mom.  After about a week of constant texting, The Ex appeared to have been promoted, while Barista A got fired.

Now here's where the plot thickens...

It didn't seem like The Owner was doing much to contain the toxic relationship between Barista A and The Ex.  That's because The Owner--who was married--was having an affair with Barista B.  This all started back in 2011.  However, by 2013, The Owner was leaning on Barista B to have a threesome with him and his wife.  While Barista B entered into this relationship knowing The Owner was married, she drew the line at being the third wheel in a threesome.  When she flat-out told the Owner "no!" she found herself unemployed.

The Owner (aka the defendant) had a predictably different version of this story...

Barista A was previously employed at The Cafe--twice.

She was fired the first time for mouthing-off to another female employee.  But eventually, The Owner hired her back.  Her second round of employment lasted until she whipped-up a batch of weed brownies and was handing them out/selling them to employees and customers.  Both The Owner and The Manager complained that Barista A was often late, called-in sick, or didn't show up at all for work.

Now Barista A said she was fired by The Manager every time she broke up with The Ex for cheating on her.  Sometime between her second and third round of employment she hooked-up with another guy and got pregnant, later giving birth to a baby girl.  So her daughter was often sick.

By this time, The Ex was working at The Cafe, and The Owner decided to give Barista A yet another chance--despite the fact that her and The Ex got along like a mongoose and a cobra.

As for Barista B:  The Manager complained she often came to work hung over, was uncooperative and all-round poor performer.  The Manager often complained to The Owner about Barista B, while Barista B complained to The Owner about what a so-and-so The Manager was.  The Manager told both of them (separately of course) to "work it out with (The Manager/Barista B)."

The Manager also complained that as time wore on, Barista B became more confrontational.  Finally she had enough and fired Barista B.

Throughout the trial, The Owner's lawyer continued to point out that his affair with Barista B was a consensual relationship, so therefore, no sexual harassment was committed.

Jury Deliberations:

(Image from:  Movie Diva--Bright Rock)

After hearing all this, we were issued a set of Court Instructions.  We were to determine:

Did The Owner sexually harass Barista B?  If so, how much should Barista B be awarded for lost tips & wages?  How much should Barista B be compensated for pain & suffering?

And:  How much should Barista A be compensated for pain & suffering?  (Remember, she already won her case and was due to receive an award for lost tips & wages).

We spent nearly the entire day deliberating.  Unlike a criminal case, which requires a unanimous vote to reach a verdict, for a civil case like this, we only needed 10 jurors to agree.

When it came to determining whether or not The Owner sexually harassed Barista B, the initial vote was: No-1 to Yes--11 votes.  But once it was explained to the no voter, that despite the consensual origins of the affair, The Owner kept pestering Barista B for a threesome, it became sexual harassment.  Even more so after she was fired.

Now Barista B's attorney thought she deserved nearly $63 Grand, which included an alleged $5/hour pay raise for a total of 104 weeks.

One of the jurors re-read the instructions and reminded us that any monetary damages were assessed from the day Barista B was fired until the first day of the trial.  This totaled 87 weeks--not quite the 104 weeks the Barista's attorney was asking for.

Another juror pointed out that Barista B was making a mere $10/hour, at tad over minimum wage here in WA State (currently $9.47/hr), which didn't add up to $63 Grand.

The question of "how big were her tips?" came up and became a topic of a lengthy debate.  We all noted, especially The Owner's attorney, that Barista B stated--under oath--that she only claimed 10% of her tips on her 1040 Tax Form.

The only physical evidence we had to go on were provided by the Baristas' attorney in the form of the hard copies of text messages from the Baristas' phones.  We didn't have any pay statements, W2s, bank statements, tax forms.

The Owner's attorney provided--nadda.  The only written performance reviews of the two Baristas were written by The Manager--over a year after they were fired--and these documents weren't included in the evidence package.  According to both The Manager and The Owner, they were in the process of establishing written procedures for performance reviews and complaints.  Nor did we see any of the racy selfies The Owner exchanged with Barista B, that the attorney claimed was initiated by Barista B.

So based on what we had--and didn't have--we came up with a lost tips & wages figure of just over $24 Grand.

As for pain & suffering:  Zilch.

We all felt Barista B willingly entered into the affair with The Owner and that she knew what she was getting in to.  It was curious that neither The Owner, nor Barista B fessed-up to starting the affair.  The story they told, during their separate testimonies, went something like this:  "We met at a bar, had too much to drink, then ended up in a hotel room..."

Now for Barista A, half the jury felt differently.  Myself and five others felt she was aware she was entering a hostile work environment, because she knew ahead of time that The Ex was already working there.  We felt she should have stayed away from the place, like Superman avoids Kryptonite.  One juror was of the opinion that most of harassing text messages were sent by The Ex when they were away from work, so it was a personal issue.  Others asked why didn't she block his number, change hers, get a restraining order, etc.  Another juror read some of Barista A's not-so-pleasant responses out loud.

But the other six jurors felt The Owner broke his promise of shielding her from any harassment by The Ex.  One of the in-favor-for jurors wondered how long did she endure this, because of Barista A's and The Ex's toxic relationship predated her third round of employment at The Cafe.

For this, our foreman came up with a great idea:  She pointed to one text message, where Barista A clearly states to The Manager "...this is harassment..."  Then, a week later, Barista A was fired.  So based on our foreman's recommendation we voted, unanimously, that based on the timespan between messages, Barista A was subjected to seven days of on-the-job harassment.

The question then became, how much do we award her?

Besides the six of us who still felt Barista A should get zip, just like Barista B; figures ranged from a mere $70 to over $42 Grand.

At some point during the deliberation, I blurted out a suggestion for $100/day.  After another round of debating, four "no voters" agreed, some even said "against my better judgement," to change their vote from $0 to $700. Me and another guy kept our votes at $0.  But to be honest, if my vote was needed to reach this verdict in a timely manner, I would have changed it to $700.

The Verdict:

(Image from:  12 Angry Men)

Once the attorneys for the plaintiffs and the defended arrived, we filed into the courtroom and Judge Chushcoff read the verdict.

Normally in TV/movie courtroom dramas, the bad guy/gal is found guilty and hauled away amid applause.  In our case, both attorneys and the Baristas remained impassive, while The Owner didn't show up at all.

Another thing you don't see in the courtroom dramas:  After the verdict is reached, both attorneys have an opportunity to ask the jury questions, and even poll the jury.

(So reader take note:  If you find yourself on jury duty, you may be asked to explain and defend your verdict, even if you didn't agree with your fellow jurors).

Judge Chushcoff again thanked us profusely for our service as jurors, and as we filed out of the courtroom the Baristas were outside thanking each of us.

My fellow jurors and I felt we reached a fair verdict.  Everyone contributed some insight into the case.  The Owner didn't get away scott-free, but the Baristas didn't "cash in" either.  We thought we reached a decision without hurting a fellow juror's feelings, and we could all go home and finally get a good night's sleep...

(Image from:  Camberwell Studios--Film Noir Lighting)


Piper Bayard said...

Didn't I see ALL of these people on Jerry Springer? Holy crap! What a brain bleeder! The real question is how did so many stupid people end up working in the same bar at the same time? They're all kryptonite. Sounds like you jurors did an outstanding job. Thanks for telling us about it.

Ted Henkle said...

Thank you Piper for your compliment and for posting. We had a good jury crew. So good in fact a contact roster was passed around and we may get together socially sometime. We made a conscientious effort to come up with a fair verdict.