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NH Corrections Officer, Suspended After Fight, Obtains Back Pay Plus $250,000 in Damages and Attorney Fees

NH Corrections Officer, Suspended After Fight, Obtains Back Pay Plus $250,000
in Damages and Attorney Fees

On October 31, 2011, a state court jury found that the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (NHDOC) had interfered with the free expression rights of Mark F. Jordan, 43, a prison guard and former chapter president of the New England Police Benevolent Association, when it suspended him for a year following a fight between Jordan and another guard in a prison parking lot after work. The jury awarded Jordan $150,000 in damages for violating a New Hampshire law that prohibits interference with a public employee’s ability to publicly discuss his opinions and observations.

Rather than confining review of the March 2010 parking lot incident to an internal affairs investigation, Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn had pushed for a criminal prosecution. As a result, Jordan lost not only his pay but benefits covering his wife and daughter as well.

In February 2011 a jury found Jordan not guilty of simple assault. He returned to work the following month and was reimbursed for lost wages.

The civil trial focused on whether he had been suspended because, as president of the local chapter of the union representing prison guards, he had become so vocal and critical of safety and labor issues that NHDOC officials were determined to silence him. The jury’s verdict answered that question in the affirmative.

Jordan had argued to the jury that he could not effectively discharge his union duties because, while suspended, he was prohibited from entering onto prison property.

An 18-year NHDOC veteran, Jordan said after the trial that he would take a leave of absence to deal with a medical problem that left him vulnerable to injury.

The state appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, but agreed to settle the case in August 2012. According to Jordan’s attorney, Charles G. Douglas III, the settlement included the jury award of $150,000 plus $150,000 in attorney fees and costs. See: Jordan v. State of New Hampshire, Merrimack Superior Court, Case No. 217-2010-CV-00379.

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Related legal case

Jordan v. State of New Hampshire