Low Jury Pay Excludes Minorities & Poor, Class Says in Washington

     TACOMA, Wash. (CN) — Low pay for jury service has caused grumbling for decades. Now Washington residents have filed a class action claiming the $10 a day stipend violates minimum wage laws and prevents low-income minorities from serving, with a "pernicious effect on the judicial system."
     King County's $10-per-day reimbursement for mileage or travel hasn't changed since 1959, lead plaintiff Ryan Rocha says in the complaint in Pierce County Court.
     He says the low pay effectively prevents minorities and poor people from participating in jury service.
     A Seattle worker earning minimum wage would make $104 for an eight-hour day, and all minimum-wage workers in Washington earn at least $75 for eight hours.
     Rocha et al. sued in Pierce County Superior Court to avoid a conflict of interest in King County, whose seat is Seattle.
     King County, pop. 2 million, is the largest county in Washington by population and the 13th most populous county in the United States. Pierce County, whose seat is Tacoma, just south of Seattle, is the state's second most populous county, with 800,000 residents.
     Rocha and co-plaintiff Nicole Bednarczyk say they want to serve as jurors but their employers don't pay for jury duty so it would be too much of a financial hardship.
     "Plaintiffs Ryan Rocha and Nicole Bednarczyk are individuals of low economic status who work for employers that do not compensate employees for jury service. Plaintiff Rocha is also black, and issues of income inequality and financial instability disproportionately affect King County's communities of color. Plaintiffs Rocha and Bednarczyk are eligible and eager to serve as jurors in the courts of King County but cannot afford to forgo the income they would lose while doing so," the complaint states.
     "If King County summoned them to perform jury service today, plaintiffs Rocha and Bednarczyk would be forced to request financial hardship exemptions despite their desire to participate in the judicial process. Indeed, King County has previously excused plaintiff Bednarczyk from serving as a juror on the basis of financial hardship. Because King County refuses to pay individuals for time spent performing jury service, plaintiff Rocha, plaintiff Bednarczyk, and others are being excluded on the basis of economic status, race, and color."
     The other named plaintiff, Catherine Selin, served on a jury for 11 days last year, and also worked for an employer that did not compensate her. She says King County violated the state's minimum wage act by not paying her.
     "King County is violating Washington law in the operation of its jury system. Specifically, King County's failure to pay individuals for time spent performing jury service has a disparate impact on low-income people and people of color, preventing them from jury participation. This form of institutional exclusion and discrimination violates state law and has a pernicious effect on the judicial system and American democracy," according to the complaint.
     Their attorney Jeffrey Needle said in a statement: "Citizens aren't required to give up their incomes in order to vote, and they shouldn't have to do so with jury service either."
     They seek class certification and an injunction requiring King County to pay minimum wage to jurors who are not compensated by their employers, and damages for jurors who already served without being compensated.
     They are represented by Toby Marshall with Terrell Marshall and Jeffery Needle, both of Seattle.