Byrd may pay deputy $260,000 in harassment penalties - - The News for South Mississippi

Byrd may pay deputy $260,000 in harassment penalties

(Photo source: WLOX) (Photo source: WLOX)

Former Jackson County sheriff Mike Byrd may have to pay a deputy $260,000 because of harassment allegations argued during a 2015 trial.

Court papers say in August, 2013, Kristan Seibert testified in front of the grand jury investigating the former Jackson County sheriff. After that grand jury indicted the sheriff, Byrd allegedly went to Seibert’s office and said, “I guess you hate me, too.”

By December of that year, Byrd pleaded guilty in federal court and resigned as Jackson County’s sheriff.

In April, 2014, deputy Kristan Seibert filed suit against Byrd alleging discrimination based on sexual harassment.

The former sheriff’s three-day trial was in 2015. When it ended, a jury determined Byrd should pay Seibert $260,000. However, a federal judge threw out the jury verdict.

At the time, the judge ruled, “No rational juror could view the evidence and conclude that Defendant Byrd’s visit to Plaintiff’s office after her grand jury testimony -  particularly when decoupled from the evidence of sexual harassment which the jury apparently disbelieved – was ‘so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.’”

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals just intervened. It determined “the district court erred in ‘decoupling’ the evidence” and ordered the case be sent back to district court so the jury’s verdict can be reinstated.

The appeals court posted its decision on Thursday. “By decoupling the evidence,” the appeals court writes, “and considering only testimony that related to nonsexual conduct, the district court plainly ignored this court’s direction to ‘consider all of the evidence, drawing all reasonable inferences and resolving all credibility determinations in the light most favorable to non-moving party.’”

The appeals court notes, “Under Mississippi law, ‘a party may recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress, where there is something about the defendant’s conduct which evokes outrage or revulsion.’”

In this case, Seibert alleged that Byrd began sexually harassing her in 2012. Court papers say the deputy’s claims included unwanted touching, lewd comments, and unwelcome sexual advances toward her.

The appeals court ruled that because a reasonable jury would have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for Seibert on the issue of intentional infliction of emotional distress, “we find that the district court erred” in granting Byrd’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The district judge granted that motion after the three-day trial concluded.

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