After six hours of questioning, lawyers Tuesday were able to select a jury for the $25 million discrimination lawsuit filed by a former interim chief executive officer against Erlanger hospital.
The 96 mostly white, middle-aged men and women who filed into Hamilton County Judge Neil Thomas's courtroom around 10:30 a.m. were whittled down to a 14-person jury on the first day of the high-profile case. The jury was fairly evenly split between men and women, and includes two black men and two black women.
The trial, expected to last four to five weeks, involves allegations by Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson, a black Erlanger employee with more than two decades of experience who served as the hospital's interim CEO between 2012 and 2013. In addition to being terminated without notice while on medical leave, Woodard-Thompson contended top officials called medicine "a white man's world" amid a hasty search process that unfairly passed her over for the permanent CEO spot.
Woodard-Thompson sued the hospital in July 2013, claiming retaliatory damages, invasion of privacy and conspiracy. In response, Erlanger dismissed the allegations as "simply not true."
Woodard-Thompson and her attorneys, Phil and Jennifer Lawrence, declined to comment Tuesday. Erlanger's lawyer, Randy Wilson, also refused to discuss the case.
The 2013 lawsuit involves allegations of racial discrimination and workplace hostility.
After paneling the first 14 jurors for questioning, Thomas read them five provocative questions that dealt mostly with discrimination.
"All I want is a yes or no," the judge said.
But questioning, instead, turned to employment issues such as whether people had received severance packages; taken leaves of absence; worked at Erlanger; had experience in human resource departments; or been subjected to hostile supervisors.
The lawyers rarely focused on racial discrimination because jurors said they had not experienced it — or been accused of it.
"Have any of you been involved in a situation where you sued a company because you were terminated or passed over for a promotion?" Wilson asked jurors.
One said yes, because she wrote insurance for those types of cases. But asked whether it would affect her impartiality, she said no.
That line of questioning was common during Tuesday's proceeding.
Early on, 12 jurors were dismissed because of scheduling conflicts; one because her firm worked directly with Erlanger; and three because of peremptory challenges — a legal move that grants lawyers the ability to automatically eject any juror.
Although Tennessee statute grants each party four of those challenges, they cannot be used to dismiss someone based on race. If there's any speculation whatsoever, a lawyer must provide ample justification for his challenge.
Opening arguments take place today at 9 a.m.
Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfree press.com or (423) 757-6347 for story ideas or tips. Follow @zackpeterson918.