In a suit for racial discrimination, the trial judge refused to strike for cause the prospective juror Leiter, a business owner who showed signs of bias towards employees during voir dire.
When considering to strike for cause a potential juror, a trial judge must determine whether the juror is capable of suspending relevant material and contestable prior beliefs for the duration of the trial.
Thompson (Plaintiff) sued her employer (Defendant) for racial discrimination. When selecting the jury, the Plaintiff used peremptory challenges to remove three prospective jurors. This did not include the juror Leiter, a business owner who said during voir dire she believed some employees unnecessarily sued their employer when they didn’t get a raise or other benefit. The trial court judge did not strike for cause Leiter based on these voir dire answers.
Was the Plaintiff’s right to an impartial trial infringed when the trial court refused to strike for cause Leiter?
Yes, the trial judge should have struck for cause Leiter, for failure of assurance to remain impartial. Reversed and remanded for a new trial.
The Court determined that the statement made by prospective juror Leiter was not a bias, but a prior belief regarding employer and employee relationships. Once this prior belief was stated, the trial judge failed to further question Leiter and establish an assurance that she could serve fairly and impartially, her judgment unclouded by this prior belief.