Judge Land not calling it quits in federal gender discrimination suit; deliberations enter fourth day

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 16, 2013 

Lt. Donna Tompkins of the Muscogee County Sheriff's Department, left, leaves federal court with her attorney Edward Buckley and an unidentified woman.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

A federal jury deliberating the fate of two female Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office lieutenants claiming gender discrimination in the department’s promotion process will be back in court this morning after more than 18 hours of deliberation failed to yield a verdict.

The seven-man, five-woman jury worked more than eight hours Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land released them for the day and ordered them back at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Donna Tompkins and Joan Wynn filed the lawsuit against Sheriff John Darr and the city of Columbus when Lt. Charles Shafer, a person they claimed was less qualified than they were, was promoted to captain in 2010.

During the trial that began Sept. 9, the jury heard testimony from Tompkins, Wynn, Darr and Shafer, among others. Tompkins and Wynn both have master’s degrees, while Shafer has no college education. Shafer, a career jailer, has worked in the jail more than 30 years, far exceeding the jail experience of the two women.

Darr and his all-male Command Staff interviewed the candidates in April 2010. Shafer was recommended by all but Chief Deputy John Fitzpatrick, who said the hire should be a female, according to testimony.

Tompkins and Wynn are asking for back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages. If there are punitive damages, Darr, and not the city, would be responsible for those, according to Land’s jury instructions.

Any decision by the jury must be unanimous. In three days of deliberation, the jury has asked the judge no legal questions that he has taken up with the attorneys.

The three days of deliberation is uncharted waters for the judge and attorneys.

Edward Buckley, who along with Cheryl B. Legare is representing Tompkins and Wynn, said this is a first in his 30-year legal career.

"I have never had one stay out this long,” Buckley said.

The Atlanta attorneys came back to Columbus on Monday when the jury began its second day of deliberation. They were not prepared to spend a second night here and returned to Atlanta after Land released the jury on Tuesday.

Columbus City Attorney Clifton Fay said this is the longest he can remember a jury deliberating on a city case.

"This is not unusual in some civil cases, but it is certainly the longest I can recall a jury being out,” Fay said. “We know this jury is working hard.”

Before breaking for lunch on Tuesday, Land addressed the jury and made it clear that he was not ready to call it quits. The judge adjusted today’s deliberation schedule to run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., later than the jury has been staying previously.

"We’ll let you know on Friday what the schedule is for next week,” Land told jurors.

As Land and the attorneys waited for the jury to enter the courtroom at the end of the day, Land said he had never had a mistrial for a hung jury in his 11 years as a federal judge.

"And I don’t intend to have one this time,” he told the attorneys.

When the jury returned to the courtroom, Land informed them of the new deliberation hours. He also said that the jury had “exhausted juror breakfast budget.” He said there would be no muffins Wednesday morning.

Related stories:

Promoted captain, at center of Sheriff Darr discrimination suit, testifies

Federal discrimination lawsuit: Sheriff Darr, his chief deputy give conflicting testimony

Deputies testify in discrimination suit against Sheriff John Darr, city

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