When Lana Wallace showed up for her orientation session for her new job at the Zion Early Childhood Center in Hopkins on July 28, she informed her boss that she was on call for federal jury duty, beginning in August.
She was sent home that day, then terminated.
The story has a happy ending, however.
After learning what happened, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis issued an order, appointing an attorney from a prominent Minneapolis law firm. The lawyer sent a five-page letter to the minister of Zion Lutheran Church, followed it up with a phone conversation, and on Aug. 22, Wallace was rehired by the child-care center with back pay.
The attorney, William Manning of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, praised Wallace for not suing the day-care center.
Instead, he said, she took the position, “Let’s forgive what happened, and let’s move on and take care of the children.”
Wallace has more than 21 years of experience in child care and, after two rounds of interviews, was hired with a $2 per hour raise from her previous job, according to Manning’s letter to the minister.
On her first day of work at Zion, Wallace told her new boss she was on-call for federal jury duty from Aug. 1 to Sept. 12.
Her boss, according to Manning, became angry, said she should have been informed earlier and told Wallace to delay her jury duty.
Despite Wallace’s attempts to call the jury clerk to request a delay and to get her boss to write a letter on her behalf, she was terminated.
“It was a stern accusation to tell Ms. Wallace that she should have revealed her on-call jury duty information earlier,” Manning wrote.
He said that Wallace had consulted her sister, a human relations specialist, “who advised, correctly in our view, not to bring up the jury duty — because it was not at all relevant.”
Manning noted that during the six weeks she’d have been on call, she would have been likely gone only for two days.
Judge Davis moved swiftly after observing that an e-mail from her employer stated Wallace’s jury duty as the reason for her termination.
Noting that federal law provides that “no employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate or coerce any permanent employee by reason of such employee’s jury service,” Davis wrote: “The court finds that Wallace has established probable merit to her claim that Zion violated the Protection of Jurors Employment statute.”
In his letter to the church, Manning said Wallace had two options: Sue or be rehired with back pay.
In a one-page letter, e-mailed to Manning on Aug. 29, the Rev. Randall Neal said that Wallace met with her supervisor on Aug. 22 “to complete … orientation as a new hire” and began her duties on Aug. 25.
“She will also receive back pay for the time she missed working between July 28, 2014, and the day she resumed her employment,” he stated. “There will be no retribution against her.”
In an interview on Friday, Manning praised Judge Davis for his prompt action, the church for realizing it made a mistake, and Wallace, for her willingness to accept reinstatement and move on.
He even had some kind words for the boss who fired Wallace.
“I think people can have a bad day,” he said.
Wallace could not be reached for comment.
Neal acknowledged in a brief phone conversation that the church had made a mistake, but said he would not comment on the incident.