Jury finds Hamilton County judge not guilty in federal discrimination trial

Jury finds Hamilton County judge not guilty in federal discrimination trial

April 25th, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Breaking News

Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw, left, and Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, right, leave the Joel W. Solomon Federal Courthouse during a trial recess on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Testimony continued Thursday in Elizabeth Gentzler's federal lawsuit against Hamilton County, Judge Philyaw and administrator Sam Mairs which claims Gentzler was discriminated against and fired in 2014 for being gay.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

This story was updated April 25, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.

A Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge and his administrator have been cleared of any wrongdoing in a federal discrimination trial.

After an hour of deliberations Tuesday, jurors said Judge Rob Philyaw didn't discriminate against Elizabeth Gentzler, an openly gay magistrate who filed suit against him in 2015. U.S. District Court Judge Travis McDonough dismissed claims against administrator Sam Mairs and Hamilton County before jurors received the case.

"I thank the jurors for their commitment to hearing the case and for giving a quick decision," Philyaw said in a statement. "I wish only the best for the Gentzlers. I am looking forward to working even harder for the families and children of Hamilton County."

Former Juvenile Court magistrate Elizabeth Gentzler, left, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Courthouse with her wife Jennifer during a trial recess on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Testimony continued Thursday in Gentzler's federal lawsuit against Hamilton County, Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw and administrator Sam Mairs which claims Gentzler was discriminated against and fired in 2014 for being gay.

Former Juvenile Court magistrate Elizabeth Gentzler, left, leaves...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gentzler, a practicing attorney in Juvenile Court who accepted an appointment as magistrate judge in 2011, said she never had any issues with her old boss, Judge Suzanne Bailey. But she said she experienced a pattern of discriminatory behavior after Philyaw's appointment in 2013 when Bailey retired.

On the witness stand last month, Gentzler said Philyaw didn't invite her to public events because he didn't want to be seen with an openly gay person while trying to win an election. Philyaw also ignored her requests to meet and discuss ideas, she said, and Mairs made homophobic jokes. Together, they created a hostile work environment. They demoted her and then Philyaw fired her without explanation shortly after winning his election in 2014, her attorney, Stuart James, argued.

"I want to personally thank [Gentzler] and her wife, Jen, for having the courage and integrity to pursue their rights in a court of law," James said Wednesday. "It takes a lot of courage to openly say you are gay," James said. "It takes more courage to publicly enforce your rights in a court of law before a judge and a jury."

James added he will likely file a motion for a new trial.

At trial, Philyaw and Mairs took the stand and denied that Gentzler's sexual orientation had anything to do with her termination. Philyaw testified that he'd heard complaints of too much laughter in Gentzler's courtroom between hearings and one instance in which Gentzler used profanity. He said he never gave Gentzler a reason for her firing because he believed she would argue with him, and he wanted to avoid unnecessary confrontation.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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