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WA Guard Discrimination Suit Settled for $250,000

In the May, 1999, issue of PLN we reported the widespread racism among white prison employees in the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and the resulting hostile work environment it created for minority employees as well as prisoners.

In July, 1998, black Clallam Bay Corrections Center guards Doris Washington, Charles Jackson, Collins Bailey, Earnest Grimes and Valinda Andrea, filed suit in federal court in Tacoma claiming they had been subjected to a hostile work environment that included, but was not limited to: white guards referring to blacks as "coons" and "niggers"; the targeting of minority prisoners for beatings by guards; black guards receiving death threats from their white co-workers and white employees at the prison bragging about their membership in racist and white supremisist groups. [For a fuller description of the lawsuit and rampant racism in the Washington prison system see: Black Guard, White Guard: Racism in Washington DOC Continues, PLN, May, 1999. The article is also posted on PLN's website at:]

In March, 2000, the Washington DOC agreed to settle the CBCC guards' lawsuit by paying them $250,000. This amount includes attorney fees and costs. The DOC denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

What is unusual about the settlement, which has been obtained by PLN, is its media provision: "4. The parties and their legal counsel agree that they shall not directly or indirectly initiate any contact with any media regarding this case or its settlement. The parties recognize that this settlement is a mutual agreement intended to avoid the risks of a trial. In the interest of returning to a more harmonious work place, the parties agree to respond to any media inquiries without the use of inflammatory allegations or disparaging comments or statements about any other party." This provision is apparently in response to a press conference held by the plaintiffs when the suit was filed, where they recounted the racist attacks they had been subjected to by their fellow DOC employees.

The Washington DOC censored the May, 1999, issue of PLN and a March, 1999, issue of The Seattle Weekly because of the article exposing the widespread racism in the Washington prison system. PLN, The Seattle Weekly and Jennifer Vogel, the article's author, have filed suit challenging that censorship, and the case is still pending. Washington DOC officials are more concerned with covering up and concealing the widespread racism within the prison system than they are with addressing it. But, an essential element of the employee racism suits (a similar suit by black prison employees at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton is still pending) is that the Washington DOC's senior administrators encourage and tolerate overt, violent racism by their employees. As this settlement shows, maintaining a racist, hostile work environment doesn't come cheap at $250,000 a pop. See: Washington v. State of Washington, US DC, WD WA, Tacoma, Case No. C98-5368-FDB.

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Related legal case

Washington v. State of Washington