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Former Wackenhut Guard Awarded $600,000 For Wrongful Termination

A federal jury in Fresno, California, has awarded $600,000 to a former guard at the Taft Correctional.Institution (TCI) for wrongful termination. TCI is a private prison operated by the Geo Group, formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation [see PLN, June 2004, p.16]. TCI houses federal prisoners.

John Elliot, who began working as a guard at TCI shortly after it opened in 1997, claimed in his lawsuit that he was retaliated against by two wardens for writing letters and memos alleging the prison was unsafe for both guards and prisoners. After writing several memos to Wackenhut officials, Elliot wrote to United States Senators Deanne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and then to Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House of Representatives committee that oversees the Bureau of Prisons, said his attorney Philip Ganong. Elliot also wrote to a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

Ganong says Elliot believed a number of conditions contributed to a dangerous environment at the prison, including ongoing criminal activity by the prisoners. He believed (Wackenhut) was engaging in unsafe workplace practices, essentially that a criminal enterprise was being allowed to run and be run from the prison by prisoners over the phone." Elliot also contended that there was intimidation of weaker prisoners by stronger prisoners." He thought it was unsafe for inmates, guards and the community," Ganong said.

In 1999 Elliot was suspended without pay, first by Warden John Campbell, then his successor, Ray Andrews. Ganong said the suspension was retaliation for Elliot's letter writing campaign," which Elliot claimed was protected speech.

In 2000 Elliot sued the wardens and Wackenhut for wrongful termination. According to Ganong, the jury ruled that Elliot's complaints were protected by federal whistleblower" laws. Ganong said the jury ultimately ruled in Elliot's favor holding that Andrews acted maliciously and despicably but (Wackenhut) did not ratify the behavior." Elliot was awarded $600,000, which the Geo Group paid in full in July 2004, Ganong said.

Elliot's case also led indirectly to a class-action suit against Wackenhut concerning overtime pay for employees at TCI and other prisons. The parties in that case have reached a tentative settlement.

Source: Midway Driller

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