Barry Shlachter of the Fort Worth Star Telegram reports today on an employment dispute you rarely see these days. Shlachter profiles a new lawsuit filed by Saginaw resident Corey Gillespie against Dee King Trucking of Amarillo. According to the article, Gillespie (a relatively new employee (and importantly not an independent contractor) with the company) was summoned for jury duty in Tarrant County for a misdemeanor criminal case. Upon advising his employer of his call to service, the company dispatcher told him to "pick up the load or you’re jobless."
As always, there are two sides to the story. The article explains that the company reassigned Gillespie’s truck, with his cooperation, because neither knew how long his jury service would last. Moreover, the company claims that its repeated and multiple attempts to contact Gillespie after his service to arrange for his transportation to Amarillo to pick up his truck were met with only a text message response that the employee had a bad feeling and was going to pass.
While cell phone records, the trial judge’s testimony (the trial judge apparently talked to Gillespie’s employer upon being informed he was jobless and was informed that Gillespie had not lost his job) and other documentary evidence may be key to determining what really happened, with fact questions like these, a jury is likely to be left to decide which version of the truth it believes. Since most jurors are likely to be employees themselves and all are fulfilling their civic duty by serving on a jury, it is easy to imagine how they might empathize with a plaintiff like Gillespie. This case provides an important reminder of an employer’s duties with respect to an employee’s jury service.
In Texas, a private employer may not terminate the employment of a permanent employee because the employee serves as a juror. Independent contractors and temporary employees are not protected by the Texas law. An employee who is terminated in violation of the Texas statute is entitled to reemployment, 1-5 years of compensation and attorney’s fees. The Act further provides for criminal penalties and contempt sanctions. Similarly, federal law affords jurors in the federal court system with similar protection.
You can access Barry Shlachter’s article about the Gillespie case here for several weeks before it is achieved by the paper.