Former Hamilton County magistrate's discrimination trial resumes in federal court

Former Hamilton County magistrate's discrimination trial resumes in federal court

April 24th, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

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.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

A former Hamilton County magistrate's discrimination trial started back up Monday, as her attorney argued that a former colleague contributed to her demotion and eventual firing in 2014 without solid evidence.

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Administrator Sam Mairs didn't observe Elizabeth Gentzler in the courtroom, didn't know how she interacted with lawyers and litigants, and didn't have other information that would demonstrate whether she was doing a good job as a magistrate, her attorney, Stuart James, argued in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court.

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.

Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw, left, and Hamilton...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Still, James said, Mairs suggested Gentzler be moved to a different position when their mutual boss, Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw, confided during a series of conversations that he was losing faith in her judgment.

Then, when Mairs caught wind that Gentzler felt she was being discriminated against for being the only openly gay employee in Junveile Court, he recorded her in secret during a one-on-one meeting, James said.

"You want the jury to believe that you had these discussions [with Philyaw] and didn't have any input on it?" James asked.

Mairs denied that level of input. He said he recorded their conversation because he wanted to protect himself in case Gentzler moved forward with an equal employment opportunity claim. He said he suggested the move because he liked Gentzler and recognized that Philyaw might fire her soon.

In Tennessee, magistrates work at the pleasure of their judge. And in Juvenile Court, where Philyaw was trying to win an election in 2014, the judge testified that he'd heard complaints of too much laughter in Gentzler's courtroom between hearings and one instance in which Gentzler used profanity.

Gentzler said the story was more complex than that: She and James filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Philyaw, Mairs, and Hamilton County in September 2015, saying both men created a hostile work environment for her by excluding her from public events and treating her differently from her colleagues.

When Gentzler's trial started last month, she and James put on proof of that exclusionary behavior and said officials moved her to a different building because she was gay. Gentzler began working at Juvenile Court as a deliquency officer before she was appointed to magistrate in 2011.

County attorneys denied many of Gentzler's claims and argued she didn't vocalize her concerns about being penalized for being gay. After a two-week hiatus in the trial so federal officials could try a sex-trafficking case, everyone returned to court Monday and county attorneys began putting on witnesses.

Attorneys will continue cross-examining Mairs today at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Travis McDonough.

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


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