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Ex Washington DOC Guard's $101,000 Jury Award for Termination Reversed Due to Insufficient Evidence

The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) appealed a 2005 judgment in favor of former employee Sandra Harris. Harris had sued claiming gender and disability discrimination, retaliation and outrage following her job termination. The jury verdict in favor of Harris was reversed due to lack of evidence, and the DOC was denied attorney's fees for not citing applicable entitlement laws.

Harris became a volunteer prison guard in 1993 and achieved permanent part time status in 1996. A 1998 interview for a full time position went awry after Harris was caught using acquired interview answers, and she was denied the position. Her supervisors alleged behavioral and attitude problems, which prevented her further promotion and resulted in disciplinary actions and her eventual dismissal.

At trial, the jury awarded Harris a total of $100,001 but dismissed the gender discrimination and retaliation claims. The DOC appealed, arguing there was a lack of showing for Harris’ disability claim because they never perceived her as being disabled; that no adverse conditions occurred; and that insufficient evidence precluded her other claims.

The Court of Appeals, Division I, affirmed the dismissal of the gender discrimination and retaliation claims, and reversed the remaining judgments, citing insufficient evidence. The appellate court noted that while some adverse actions had occurred as a result of Harris' behavior, they did not rise to the level of outrage, hostility or discrimination. Further, although the DOC had prevailed on appeal, it failed to cite “any applicable law authorizing an award of fees and costs”; thus, the Court of Appeals declined to award attorney’s fees and costs. See: Harris v. Washington Department of Corrections, 137 Wash.App. 1058 (Wash.App. Div. 1, 2007), review denied; 2007 WL 1041458.

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Related legal case

Harris v. Washington Department of Corrections