Fired juror trial hinges on meaning of 'termination'

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 Dawn Norgren of Island Title 5 Star Agency testifies Friday before County Court Judge Michael Provost. She's charged with contempt for firing an employee, Jane Trejo-Beverly, for serving on jury duty last month.

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Scott McIntyre/Staff Dawn Norgren of Island Title 5 Star Agency testifies Friday before County Court Judge Michael Provost. She's charged with contempt for firing an employee, Jane Trejo-Beverly, for serving on jury duty last month.

— It all came down to one word: Termination.

Juanita "Jane" Trejo-Beverly of North Naples testified Friday she'd been terminated from her real estate job Dec. 14, while on jury duty at the county courthouse.

But Dawn Norgren, 57, of Island Title 5 Star Agency, denied firing her — or that it was because of jury duty.

"I was terminating her position in Marco and bringing her to Naples," Norgren testified, after describing how she'd "terminated" her twice and moved her to lesser jobs to train her.

Whether Norgren is found guilty of contempt is up to Collier County Judge Mike Provost, who will rule on Tuesday.

It's against state law to terminate an employee for reporting to jury duty. Norgren’s case involves a common-law crime punishable by up to six months in jail, but violators also can face a second-degree misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum sentence of 60 days in county jail and a $500 fine.

The law allows employees to sue, and Trejo-Beverly's lawyer, Bernard Mazaheri, sued the company last month.

The case began when court clerks saw the 49 year old crying outside the jury duty room Dec. 14. They alerted Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock, who questioned her and alerted Provost. He summoned her to his chambers, where she cried after telling him she'd been fired.

He ordered Norgren to court that day on an "order to show cause" why she shouldn't be charged with contempt. She pleaded not guilty.

On Friday, Provost heard from both women and employee Jennifer Seijas, a defense witness who supported Norgren's account.

But when defense attorney Lee Hollander questioned Seijas about Norgren "terminating" Trejo-Beverly from two jobs and creating new positions for her, Seijas didn't understand "termination" in that context.

Trejo-Beverly testified she was hired Nov. 14 to be trained as a bilingual real estate closer in Naples after being out of the business several years. Her supervisor didn't have time, so Norgren sent her to Marco Island for further training and docked her annual pay $5,000.

Everything was going well, Trejo-Beverly said, and employees praised her at the Dec. 13 holiday party. After returning home, she learned she had to report for jury duty the next day, so she texted her supervisor and emailed her, Norgren and others to alert them because they were at the party.

At jury duty, her phone vibrated. It was Norgren. She waited for a break to listen to the voicemail.

"Things just are not working so I want to terminate our relationship," the voicemail said. "I'm sorry you had to be out of the office this morning and you didn't tell us."

She testified she called Norgren, who asked why she hadn't given them notice. She explained No. 426 was so high, she never thought she'd have to go.

Hollander cross-examined her, focusing on why she hadn't given any notice, her inexperience and need for further training. She said she was hired with the knowledge she'd need training.

Norgren and Seijas said they met several times with company owner Bob Leeber and decided to provide two days of training, beginning Dec. 13.

"She had professed to have a lot of experience in our business," Norgren testified. " I already terminated her job twice and moved her into something else. She wasn't qualified."

She never fired her, she said, but told her to report to a new job in Naples and Trejo-Beverly hung up. After she didn't return, Norgren emailed her Dec. 19 to ask if jury duty was over and ask why she hadn't returned; Trejo-Beverly testified that came after Norgren told her three times she was fired.

Norgren admitted Trejo-Beverly didn't know she was going to be terminated, but told Assistant State Attorney Kate Rumley it wasn't her intent.

"I'm not asking about the intent, I'm asking about what was said in that voicemail," Rumley said, but Norgren didn't think it said she was fired.

During closing arguments, Hollander said it came down one word.

"When Ms. Norgren used the word 'terminated,' I don't think she intended to fire her," Hollander said. " It may have been a poor choice of words, but that's not the basis for a criminal charge."

Rumley argued job performance isn't the issue, noting Trejo-Beverly went to the party, no one discussed performance and she was scheduled to work all week.

"The voicemail says it all," Rumley argued, noting the defense even admitted the late notice was inconvenient and they were upset. "It does come down to the word 'termination,' which does not mean 'I am moving you.' "

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