Judge OKs verdict over firing of Lee employee

TUPELO – A federal judge on Monday denied Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson’s request for a new trial over an employee’s firing.
U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock turned down Johnson’s motion relating to a June 2008 jury ruling the sheriff owed Shelia Shumpert $34,000.
In December 2006, Shumpert sued Johnson after she was fired because she reportedly violated a department policy when she told an attorney about a jail-beating she had observed a few days before.
Her lawsuit contended she was fired for what she said in reporting the incident to her supervisors and the attorney.
In upholding the monetary award, the judge ruled that Shumpert’s free speech right “outweighs the defendant’s interest in efficient operations.”
Monday, Aycock said no to Johnson’s post-verdict request that she overturn the decision or order a new trial.
The judge said evidence at trial reasonably supported the jury’s thinking that what Shumpert said was a strong factor in Johnson’s decision to fire her.
That factor also weighed in her decision to deny a new trial, she wrote.
Weeks ago, Shumpert told the court she would give up her push to get her job back, if she could be paid the jury award.
Johnson has 10 days to respond to her request, Aycock said.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Patsy R. Brumfield/Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio