A Florida woman who sued her former employer for firing her while reporting to jury duty is breathing easier after a court ruling earlier this week found she was discharged illegally.
"I'm very happy that the judge decided on the right thing to do," the employee, Juanita "Jane" Trejo-Beverly (pictured), told the Naples News Daily, "because this helps employees who are hard at work during this downturn in the economy go to jury duty -- and lets them know their jobs are protected,"
Trejo-Beverly, 49, was working as a bilingual closer at a real estate title company, Island Title 5 Star Agency on Marco Island, when she learned on an evening last December that she had to report to jury duty the next day. She promptly advised her supervisors via text messages and emails. The next morning, she sent another text message and received a response from her supervisor.
At the courthouse later that day, however, she received a voice-mail message from her supervisor advising that she had been fired from her position at the local company, which also has an office in Naples. Learning of the news, she began to cry outside the jury room. A concerned court clerk asked her why she was upset, and Trejo-Beverly explained what had happened.
The clerk said it was against state law to terminate an employee for reporting for jury duty. A bailiff informed Collier County Judge Mike Provost of the incident, and judge and juror met briefly to discuss the incident. Within hours, Trejo-Beverly's supervisor, Dawn Norgren, was summoned to court, where she pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor contempt charge.
Trejo-Beverly also filed a lawsuit against the company, as permitted by state law. The statute allows employees to sue for compensatory and punitive damages, should employers take action against them for reporting for jury duty.
During court testimony Friday, Norgren, 57, and another high level employee at the local real-estate title company, denied that Trejo-Beverly had been "terminated" and testified that she was too inexperienced for the job they'd hired her to do, the newspaper reported.
"I was terminating her position in Marco and bringing her to Naples," Norgren testified, after describing how she'd "terminated" Trejo-Beverly twice and moved her to lesser jobs to train her, the Marco Eagle reported.
In her testimony, however, Trejo-Beverly provided emails and a voicemail supporting her contention that she had been fired on the morning that she reported for jury duty.
After considering the roughly two hours of testimony, Provost rejected Island Title's claims and found Norgren guilty of indirect contempt and sentenced her to three months of probation and 50 hours of community service. He also fined her $500.
"Ms. Norgren might have had a reason to terminate Ms. Trejo-Beverly, but a later time would have been better," Provost said in making his ruling. "This may have been a reaction more than anything else, but unfortunately, it was a reaction during her jury service."
In an interview with AOL Jobs, Trejo-Beverly's lawyer, Bernard Mazaheri, called Norgren's actions "reprehensible" and said they "discourage employees and jurors from participating in the judicial system and that's really unacceptable."
He also said that Trejo-Beverly's lawsuit against Island Title will proceed. The Naples News Daily noted that Tuesday's ruling bolsters that case.
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