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Federal Prison Guard Receives $58,000 Settlement in Racial Discrimination Case

On November 9, 2001, a federal prison guard entered into a settlement agreement with the United States in which he agreed to drop his complaints for racial discrimination in exchange for just over $58,000, back pay, and a transfer to a federal prison in California. Documents relating to this case were received by PLN after a longstanding Freedom of Information Act request was just recently fulfilled by the federal government.

Leland E. Coffee worked as a guard at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) near Seattle when, in 1998, he filed a "Complaint of Discrimination" with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), in which he alleged that he was discriminated against by the warden of FDC based on his race. Coffee, who is African-American, said then-FDC warden William A. Perrill, allowed a white employee to investigate an allegation that Coffee was sleeping on duty, even though the white employee was not an investigator.

Coffee filed a second complaint within a month of the first one, this time filling in more details of his allegations of racial discrimination at FDC. Coffee said that solely because of his race, he was passed over for posts in favor of less-senior white employees, his performance ratings were dropped from excellent to satisfactory without explanation or justification, and he was charged with missing work without cause when in fact Coffee said his name was left of the duty roster following his return from annual leave.

A third complaint filed by Coffee in late 1998 stated that due to his first two complaints and an affidavit he filed in a co-worker's pending sexual harassment case, he was denied his requested leave, and that warden Perrill indicated to him that because he was black his statements were less believable and his word less reliable.

Coffee requested unspecified damages in his three complaints, as well as a transfer to "any location in California." Three years after Coffee's final complaint was filed, the Department of Justice agreed to a settlement that provided as follows:

(1) Coffee was to receive a lump sum payment of $58,325, inclusive of all costs, expenses and attorney's fees, (2) Coffee was to be transferred, at his own expense, to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, with the same rank and pay, (3) Coffee was to receive the back pay and restored annual leave that he was improperly denied by warden Perrill. Lastly, the DOJ agreed to expunge from Coffee's records any reference to suspensions he received for missing work after expiration of his annual leave.

See: Complaint of Discrimination of Leland E. Coffee, Nos. P-98-9548, P-98-9498, and P-99-0049.

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Related legal case

Complaint of Discrimination of Leland E. Coffee