Home » Blog » Jury Fact Questions Are Fading Fast in Federal Court

A jury fact question is what a judge looks for in determining whether a case should be allowed to go to a jury trial or should be dismissed on a motion for summary judgment.  In the federal 4th circuit  case of  EEOC v. Thompson Contracting, Grading, Paving, and Utilities, Inc., No. 11-1897, http://bit.ly/UzoJst, the employee’s religion required him to not work on Saturday.  The employee was observant of this part of his religion and was fired because he refused to work on Saturday.  The termination resulted from a situation where all the other drivers were working because of bad weather and the company was also using contract drivers.  After the employee was fired he filed a complaint with the EEOC .  The EEOC usually just investigates a charge and then dismisses it allowing the complainant to find a private attorney to follow through with a suit.  However, in some cases which it believes are meritorious, the EEOC handles the case for the employee and files suit on his behalf, as they did in this case.  The federal district judge granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment holding that their was no fact question for a jury to decide as to whether the employee’s request placed an undue burden on the employer despite the employee’s right to not be discriminated against based on his religion under the civil rights law.  The court of appeals agreed with the district judge on appeal. The disheartening aspect of this case is that all of these judges, in essence, said that no reasonable jury could find that the employee’s request did not place an undue burden on the employee despite the EEOC’s belief that it did.  I’m not saying that the employee should or would have won before a jury; but the 7th amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants a right to a jury trial and a jury should have been given a chance to decide the question of undue burden.  The jury trial is a valuable right and it is being steadily eroded by many of the judges in the federal system, as well as by some state judges.  The more judges find that there is no fact question for a jury, the more case authority then exists for later judges to depend upon to deny jury trials to others.  It is like a snowball rolling downhill.