New trial in West Point woman's age discrimination lawsuit

Staff Writer

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has granted a West Point woman a new trial in her sex discrimination lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Dawn L. Best, an engineer with the utility giant for 20 years, sued after she applied in 2013 to be general manager of customer relations of the utility's Mississippi operations and was passed over for a younger, white male despite her being recommended by the general managers of several local utilities in the state.

Although the utility had conducted an extensive application and review process before picking John Malone for the position, she sued in 2015.

The case went to trial on Sept. 19, 2016 in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Mississippi and on the end of the second day, the judge granted the TVA's motion to drop the age-discrimination claim but allowed the sex discrimination claim to go to the jury.

The jury went out just before 5 p.m. and returned 90 minutes later with a verdict for TVA. But when polled, one juror said she did not favor the verdict. The judge sent them back to try to reach an unanimous decision.

Twice in the next 45 minutes, the judge called them back in for what is known in legal terms as an "Allen" charge which urges them not to giver up their principles but to try to listen to all sides and then reach a verdict.

At one point, one juror said they thought they could reach a unanimous verdict, another thought they couldn't and a third wasn't sure.

Ultimately, at 7:24 p.m., the jury returned with a verdict in favor of TVA on the sex discrimination.

Best appealed, saying the two instructions from the judge so close to each other amounted to a form of coercion, forcing the one juror to give in.

"Taken in their totality, the circumstances lead us to conclude the district court abused its discretion in issuing two Allen charges so close together temporally." the Fifth Circuit judges wrote in their 13-page opinion ordering a new trial on the sex discrimination claims.

No trial date has been set.