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Kentucky Prison Guard Awarded $34,000 in Sexual Harassment Suit

Kentucky Prison Guard Awarded $34,000
in Sexual Harassment Suit

On May 27, 2003, a state circuit court in Oldham, Kentucky, awarded prison guard Karen Lemarr a total of $34,000 for the lost wages, embarrassment, and emotional distress she suffered as a result of a coworker's sexual harassment.

On June 13, 1999, Lemarr was monitoring prisoners from Wall Box 11 at the Kentucky State Reformatory. Noticing the box was dirty, she called for a clean up. Prison guard Marvin Robinson responded. According to Lemarr, once Robinson was inside the cramped wall box he exposed himself to her and made lewd comments. Lemarr was upset but continued to perform her duties. Robinson returned to the wall box 30 minutes later. When Lemarr noticed him this time, he was masturbating.

Lemarr quickly notified another prison official of the incident. Although she discussed the matter with him several more times over the next few days, Ray took no action.

Ten days later Lemarr notified another prison official of the incident. An ensuing investigation resulted in Robinson's termination. Robinson appealed and was reinstated by a personnel board. He quickly retired but continued to deny Lemarr's allegations.

Lemarr sued the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) for damages claiming that she had suffered severe and pervasive sexual harassment. As to the DOC's liability, Lemarr argued that Robinson had a history of sexual misconduct and that Ray took no action after she complained to him. Lemarr sought $3,905 for medical bills and future care, $10,803 for lost wages, and additional damages for emotional distress and embarrassment.

The DOC asserted that it did everything it was required to do, specifically noting that as soon as Lemarr properly presented her complaint a full-fledged investigation was launched which resulted in Robinson's termination. As to Lemarr's allegation that Ray did nothing after being notified of the incident, the DOC contended that Lemarr did not complain to Ray in his supervisory capacity, but rather discussed the matter with him as a friend.

At trial, the liability instructions were presented to the jury in two parts. The jury was first asked to determine whether Robinson's sexual harassment was common and whether supervisors were aware of it. The jury answered affirmatively. The next instruction required Lemarr to prove three things: First, that Robinson made unwelcome sexual advances towards her. Second, that Robinson's sexual harassment was severe and pervasive. And third, that the DOC was aware of the situation and did nothing to prevent it.

Despite the lengthy instruction, Lemarr prevailed. As to damages, Lemarr received nothing for medical expenses, but was awarded $4,000 for lost wages, $15,000 for emotional distress, and $15,000 for embarrassment. Total jury award: $34,000.

Lemarr was represented by Vicki L. Buba and Melanie Straw-Boone of the Louisville firm Stone, Pregliasco, Haynes, and Buba. See: Lemarr v. Department of Corrections , Circuit Court, Oldham, Case No. 00 CI 0257

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Related legal case

Lemarr v. Department of Corrections