Judge chides hospital supervisor who threatened to fire worker over jury duty

The Wichita Eagle

A Mecklenburg County judge chided a hospital operating room supervisor on Tuesday for threatening to fire a worker who had been called to jury duty.

Superior Court Judge Todd Pomeroy ordered Ashley Sterchi, an Iredell Memorial Hospital supervisor, to appear before him in court after a potential juror notified him of emails she had received from Sterchi this week threatening her with termination.

“I’m a little concerned about this communication,” Pomeroy told Sterchi during her noon appearance in the judge’s courtroom. “The last thing we want is for a member of the jury pool to be fearful they would lose their job.”

Sterchi, the hospital‘s director of surgical services, told Pomeroy that the employee had other job-related issues that had prompted the termination email, and that the employee hadn’t given her advance notice that she would be in court Monday.

“I’m trying to run an operating room,” Sterchi told the judge, implying that it’s difficult to find a substitute without advance notice.

Potential jurors are notified weeks in advance that they may be called to serve, Mecklenburg County court officials familiar with the case told The Charlotte Observer. They’re given only a three-day notice, however, to then call a number to see whether they’ve been selected for the jury pool for the week ahead, officials said.

Officials said the potential juror was told to call the number on Sunday, which is when she learned she’d have to appear Monday morning in court, officials said.

Sterchi, the hospital‘s director of surgical services, told the judge that numerous other Iredell Memorial employees have served on juries without issue.

She told the judge she “was very sorry” about her email that the employee would be terminated.

“It was out of frustration,” she told Pomeroy. “We could have solved the problem right away.”

Under NC law, a judge can find a supervisor or company in contempt of court and levy civil damages for threatening to fire an employee who is called to jury duty, retired Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Richard Boner told the Observer.

Officials said the potential juror told someone at the hospital, not Sterchi, that she would have to appear in court. But it wasn’t known Tuesday who that person was.

Regardless, Pomeroy said, “It could have been resolved better than it was.”

Pomeroy lectured Sterchi on the vital role jurors play in the courts but decided against disciplining her. “I’m going to let you go,” he said.

Pomeroy declined an interview with the Observer before jury selection resumed on Tuesday afternoon in a child sexual assault case over which he is presiding. Sterchi did not respond to The Charlotte Observer’s phone call Tuesday night.

Iredell Memorial Hospital in Statesville is part of Iredell Health System, which has “a strong, long-standing policy advocating for participating in jury duty,” spokeswoman Meagan Kowalski said in a statement Tuesday night.

“Staffing in a healthcare environment is essential,” according to the statement. “This was a miscommunication between an employee and supervisor regarding an absence. We will be assessing the situation further once we can speak to the employees involved and will ensure all employees understand the policy.”

Boner recalled a case where he had a courtroom bailiff call and warn a company supervisor in Gaston County after a juror, in the middle of a trial, said his boss was about to terminate him. The employee was never terminated, Boner said.

Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.