Former Nurse at Maine State Prison Files Suit Over Racial Slurs
by Joe Watson
For the second time in as many years, allegations of racism have been leveled against employees at the Maine State Prison. In the most recent incident, a former nurse at the facility filed suit in federal court, alleging that she was the target of repeated racial taunts and was fired after she complained.
The suit was filed on October 14, 2014 by attorney David Webbert on behalf of Shana E. Cannell, who worked as a licensed practical nurse at the prison from February through October 2010. The lawsuit names Corizon LLC in addition to the company’s director of nursing, Brian Castonguay, and administrator Tammy Hatch and fellow nurse Larry Brayhall. See: Cannell v. Corizon, U.S.D.C. (D. Maine), Case No. 1:14-cv-00405-NT.
Cannell, who is black, claims that some prison staffers also made derogatory comments directed at her, though Webbert said the state is not named in the litigation.
“Defendants orchestrated and condoned a continuing campaign of harassment against Cannell because of her race and in retaliation for her opposition to the unlawful race discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” the suit alleges.
In court filings, Cannell described some of the slurs she endured, which included: “cleaning up messes is what your people do,” “of course your people like chocolate, a chocolate for a chocolate,” and “I can be the fried chicken and you can be the watermelon.” Brayhall was among those who made the derogatory remarks, according to the complaint.
In response to the lawsuit, Corizon issued a statement.
“Corizon Health has strict policies prohibiting any kind of discrimination or harassment, and we require respectful treatment for all employees,” said spokesperson Susan Morgenstern. “While we cannot comment on pending litigation, it’s important to note that we have zero tolerance for violation of those policies.”
Cannell said she was terminated after someone took a photograph of her with her head on her desk and falsely accused her of sleeping on the job – a claim she said witnesses could refute. She has also filed a formal complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
In another racial incident in 2013, the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC) reprimanded seven prison guards and suspended two sergeants after a fellow employee at the Maine State Prison complained of being the target of ethnic slurs.
According to Scott Fish, the DOC’s director of special projects, the staff member – whose name and ethnicity were not revealed – was subjected to the slurs over a prolonged period of time and filed a complaint after one last comment.
“It was the final straw that broke the camel’s back,” Fish said.
The seven guards received verbal reprimands in January 2013 for the slurs, according to disciplinary records obtained by the Bangor Daily News, while a sergeant was suspended for one day and required to attend training in workplace harassment.
Another sergeant was also suspended for a day, DOC records indicated, for failing to report and take corrective action against staff members who “engaged in ridicule, slurs and/or derogatory comments toward an employee with regard to his national origin.”
The names of the guards were not released because many of them had filed grievances over the disciplinary actions and accused the state of improperly releasing the records before the cases were final, according to a union representative.
“They are very upset and very shocked over these allegations,” said James Mackie with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Mackie claimed that subpar management within the DOC – characterized by incidents such as the release of the guards’ disciplinary records – fosters a poor work environment that has led to staff shortages and high turnover. Due to the shortages, Mackie said, the DOC was forced to overturn disciplinary actions against two other guards because the agency couldn’t afford to lose more employees.
Sources: www.correctionsone.com, Bangor Daily News
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Related legal case
Cannell v. Corizon
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Maine), Case No. 1:14-cv-00405-NT|