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Lyons jurors file suits after losing their jobs

The two women allege that they were fired because of their jury service.

By DAVID BALLINGRUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 1999



A Ministry in Question: more Times coverage of the Rev. Henry Lyons


Two jurors in the Henry Lyons racketeering trial filed lawsuits Tuesday alleging they were fired from their jobs because of their jury service.

Myra McShane and Karen Raia served on the jury from Jan. 25 until Feb. 27, when Lyons was found guilty and co-defendant Bernice Edwards was acquitted.

McShane says she was terminated just three days before the trial began because jury duty was going to interrupt her training as a contract administrator.

Not so, according to her former employer, Telecommunications Asset Management Co. (TAMCO) of Clearwater. Chief executive officer Jack Thompson said McShane was let go during her 90-day probationary period after a performance review.

"Jury duty had nothing to do with it," he said.

In the second lawsuit, Karen Raia alleges she returned to her job in customer relations with Tampa Bay NetCare Services Center after the trial and was told her position had been eliminated during a departmental "revamping."

Representatives of NetCare Services Center, part of New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies, did not return calls seeking comment.

In plain language, state law protects jurors' employment. No one "shall be dismissed from employment for any cause because of the nature or length of service" on a jury, the law states. Threats of dismissal by an employer, it goes on to say, may bring a contempt of court citation.

Both lawsuits, filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, seek unspecified damages.

McShane's lawsuit says she began working for TAMCO, a financing company, in November 1998 as "contract administrator in training."

She was selected to serve as a juror in the Lyons trial on Jan. 14, and the suit says she notified her employer the next day.

A week later, on Jan. 22, the Friday before the Monday start of the trial, she was terminated "effective immediately." The only notice she received of the impending firing, the suit alleges, was the hostility she felt when she announced she would be serving on the jury.

Thompson, TAMCO's CEO, said he was shocked by the lawsuit. The company, which finances telephone systems, employs from 36 to 38 people and has been in the area about five years, he said.

"Myra was hired Nov. 2, 1998, under a 90-day probationary period," he said. "All our people are hired that way. They either fit in or they go away. The reason for her leaving was her performance review."

McShane said she had no hint she was not doing well during the probationary period, "until I told them about the jury selection."

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer, who presided over the Lyons trial, said McShane mentioned her job troubles to a bailiff as the trial was starting.

"I told her she could not be dismissed from her job because of jury duty, and told her she should discuss the matter with a lawyer after the trial."

Jurors are frequently concerned about the effect of jury duty on their employment, Schaeffer said. "In some severe cases we might even excuse them from duty. This one came up after the fact, and I wanted her to know she had rights and should get some legal advice."

When Karen Raia came back to work March 1, her suit states, she expected to return to her customer relations position. Instead she was summoned to a meeting with her supervisor, during which she was told the job no longer existed.

She said she was told she would be welcomed back "with open arms" to a position she had held for 17 months before, but it was a job she did not want. She said she considers herself fired, although the company called last week to ask her to return to her former job.

Craig L. Berman, attorney for both plaintiffs, said Raia received no formal word of dismissal.

"She has nothing in writing. If the company had offered an equal job, they might have been able to avoid the dismissal issue," he said, "but the vague possibility of another job is not enough to prevent this from being a dismissal."

Despite the loss of employment and the uncertainties of the litigation ahead, both women said they gladly would serve on a jury again.

"I did my civic duty," McShane said, "and I would do it again. Maybe what's happening now will open some people's eyes."
-- Times staff writer Waveney Ann Moore contributed to this report.

 

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