Let’s make a deal. You’ve got two choices. You can take $1,300 to waste four hours of your time, or you can take $50 for eight hours you’ll never get back. Easy choice, right?
Right. Nobody would pick jury duty over being bumped from a flight. And that’s the choice you just made. Federal jurors are paid up to $50 a day for their service. Inconvenienced fliers make up to $1,300 if they are forced to wait four or more hours for the next flight.
And yet, which is the injustice we are calling to remedy?
Of course, the plight of the inconvenienced flier has become a cause célèbre since the bloody removal of a passenger on a United Airlines Inc. fight from Chicago to Louisville went viral this past week.
Writing for Bloomberg View, Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein said the simple solution to the outrage over Dr. David Dao being dragged off an airplane is to “substantially increase the compensation given to passengers involuntarily bumped because of overbooking.”
Sure, bumped travelers deserve better. But what about the inconvenienced juror? A push to fairly compensate juries for their time shouldn’t require a bailiff to beat or abuse a juror in contempt.
The question is not meant to belittle the serious and unnecessary damage done to Dao’s face (his top-flight Chicago trial lawyer, Thomas Demetrio, said his client will require reconstructive surgery), his mental health (Dao was heard asking to die on the video) or his national reputation (a local newspaper dug up his salacious past). But jurors are getting a raw deal every day.
A federal juror would have to sit in court for 26 days to make the $1,300 that a “re-accommodated” flier is entitled to for as little as a four-hour delay. And that’s a best-case scenario. State courts pay as little as $4 a day, said Andrew Ferguson, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
The math on that: 325 days of jury service to make $1,300. You can bump me tomorrow, but just don’t make me sit on a jury.
Millions of Americans receive no pay from their employers for jury duty. According to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 57 percent of private sector employees have paid leave for jury duty. State and local employees have it better, with 91 percent receiving pay.
And while the U.S. Jury Act forbids any employer from firing, intimidating or coercing any permanent employee because of their federal jury service, stories abound of employees being fired for just that.
Consider the case of James Henders. In 2012, Henders was a sales associate at electronics sales giant HHGregg Inc., now busy laying off workers in bankruptcy court. Henders was fired two days after he told his employer that he would be sitting on a federal jury for six-to-eight weeks.
When he told this to James Holderman, the former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Holderman sent the employer a letter asking to explain the termination. No response. So Holderman determined there was “probable merit” that Henders, who made the minimum wage as a sales associate, was fired in violation of the Jury Act.
“It’s sort of like being taken prisoner. What a drag. We need these people, but what a drag,” said Richard Gonzalez, a professor and director of clinical education at the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law. Gonzalez was appointed to represent Henders in a suit against his employer that eventually settled.
People like Henders making low wages are the most vulnerable in America’s fiscally insensitive juror system, said the UDC’s Ferguson, who wrote a book “Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action.” He said the low pay jurors receive is symptomatic of a broader lack of investment that society has put into the jury process.
“We do a poor job of educating jurors before they serve, a poor job of compensating them when they serve and then wonder why they grumble about the experience,” Ferguson said. “My fervent hope would be to change that focus and invest in educational campaigns to inspire citizens to want to serve, and then compensate them for the sacrifice, especially for those who are losing out on hourly wages.”
Jurors are being abused every day. And we can’t wait for video proof to save them. Videotaping in a federal court is illegal.
So let’s support #JuryFairPayDay.
Roy Strom is based in Chicago, where he writes about the business of law and the changing nature of law firm client relationships. He has also been known to opine on other matters that pique his interest. Roy can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @RoyWStrom.