8-Person Federal Jury To Decide Whether Juvenile Court Magistrate Was Fired Because She Is A Lesbian

Monday, March 19, 2018

An eight-person federal jury is being asked to decide whether former Juvenile Court Magistrate Elizabeth Gentzler was not reappointed because she is a lesbian.

Attorney Stuart James told the jury that Judge Rob Philyaw was in a re-election campaign and did not want to be seen with Ms. Gentzler and her partner.

However, County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said the Juvenile judge can hire and fire magistrates "at will." He told the jury the defense has to prove that discrimination was involved.

Judge Philyaw and Juvenile Court Administrator Sam Mairs are being sued along with the county.

Ms. Gentzler, who is asking $500,000 in damages. gave part of her testimony before court adjourned early for the day.

She said she first found out she was a lesbian while in high school and said it initially "terrified" her. She said she "fought it for some time," then she accepted it and told her mother. She said it was not until a year later that she informed her minister father. She said both parents were supportive and loving.

She said, after finishing law school in Memphis, she took a position in Chattanooga with the Maximus firm that handles child support cases at Juvenile Court. She said she later was asked to be in charge of the intake office at the court.

Ms. Gentzler said she then was given her choice of one of two open positions by then-Judge Suzanne Bailey. One was legal officer and the other was magistrate. She chose the latter.

She said Judge Bailey was aware of her sexual orientation at the time.

Ms. Gentzler said after she was not re-appointed by Judge Philyaw after he won election to a full term in 2014, she gained a position as a supervisor at state Probation. She is also a JAG attorney with the Army Reserves and recently served a stint in Germany.

She said she began a relationship with the woman who is now her wife in 2008. She said they had a wedding before gay marriage became legal, then a smaller ceremony afterward.

Attorney James said, after Judge Philyaw was appointed to the uncompleted term of Judge Bailey by the County Commission, that Ms.Gentzler felt excluded. He said she was not invited to certain functions, including the Christmas at the Courthouse program.

He said the county maintains she was "haughty," but he said she was never given bad marks in her personnel file. He said she sought feedback from the judge on her performance and wanted to give him her ideas, but he said she was ignored.

County Attorney Taylor said the main consideration for the judge in personnel appointments is the welfare of the children appearing before the court.    



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