As longtime readers of the blog will no doubt know, my following of employment law runs second to my love of the New York Yankees. (Which no doubt will upset the other half of the state that are Red Sox fans, but you’ve got to have your loyalties in this state).
So imagine my surprise when a recent case decided by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals combined both the Yankees AND Employment Law.
The case, Luca v. County of Nassau (download here) (Aug. 17, 2009), is an otherwise standard employment law case in which the Defendant appealed from jury verdict against it on a claim of Title VII retaliation. In the appeal, the Defendant claimed — among other issues — that contact that one witness had with a juror about the prior night’s Yankee game should lead to a reversal.
The Second Circuit disagreed saying that the trial court exercised its proper discretion. But it highlights the pitfalls that even casual conversations with jurors can have on a case.
The Wait a Second blog does a great job spelling it all out:
A juror was seen talking with a witness. The witness said he did not know he was talking to a juror. They were not talking about the case; they were talking about the Yankees…
While that conduct alone is probably sufficient to raise at least a colorable argument appeal, it’s not enough to carry the day:
As the Court of Appeals puts it: "Because we recognize that in handling incidents of possible juror misconduct, a trial court confronts a ‘delicate and complex task,’ we accord it ‘broad flexibility.’ The court must be sure that any investigation it conducts does not “create prejudice by exaggerating the importance and impact of what may have been an insignificant incident.’ Moreover, ‘[i]n many instances, the court’s reiteration of its cautionary instructions to the jury is all that is necessary.’”
Under this broad standard, the Court of Appeals lets the employment discrimination verdict in favor of the plaintiff stand. …
Moral of the story: don’t talk to jurors about anything during trial, be it the Yankees or any other topic.
So, while the Yankees certainly are having a good season, it’s best to leave the baseball talk outside the courthouse.