PA Wrongful Termination Suit over Jury Duty Gets Green Light

October 29, 2003 ( - A Pennsylvania judge has cleared the way for the office manager of a Philadelphia law firm to pursue her lawsuit over allegations she was fired for serving on jury duty even though her firm employed fewer than 15 people.

Senior Judge Barry Feudale turned away the law firm’s efforts to get the suit thrown out, ruling that the Pennsylvania law exempting retail and service-industry employers with fewer than 15 staff members from holding jurors’ places was “absurd and unreasonable,” according to the Legal Intelligencer.

The “mischief” created by following such a law would be discriminatory, contrary to the legal exemptions for jury duty and would upset the intent of state public policy on the issue, the judge asserted.

Feudale wrote that the law would also allow too many people to avoid jury service and would stir up an “administrative nightmare for judges and jury administrators who are struggling with the problem of encouraging more people to serve on juries at a time when recent studies show a reluctance to serve on jury duty, leading to a crisis in several jurisdictions.”

State law exempts those service-industry employers with fewer than 15 employees and manufacturers with fewer than 40 from the jury duty requirement.

Case History

In April 2001, plaintiff Julia Sheeran served as a juror in a criminal trial that lasted two to three days and ended in a mistrial, said her attorney, Sidney Gold. Sheeran told the judge presiding over the trial for which she was a jury member that she was worried her boss at the law firm Kubert Himmelstein & Associates would fire her for missing work, Gold told the Legal Intelligencer.

“He claimed he couldn’t not have her there,” Gold said. “He was the typical employer that doesn’t want to have an employee absent from work.”    But Sheeran felt she had a civil obligation to serve and she went, Gold said.

Soon after, Sheeran was fired from her job as office manager of the firm, where she had worked for more than 20 years, according to the opinion.

Months later, Sheeran filed a wrongful termination suit, citing a 1978 Pennsylvania Superior Court decision, which said that an employer who fires an employee for serving jury duty violates public policy and that the employee can claim wrongful discharge, according to the opinion.

Attorneys for the law firm said the legislature did not intend to punish service-industry employers with fewer than 15 staff members for firing an employee for serving on a jury, and it recognized the hardship small service-industry endure employers when losing one of their employees to jury duty, according to the opinion.

The case is
Sheeran v. Kubert Himmelstein & Associates.