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Missouri DOC Director Replaced after String of Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuits

After eight years on the job, Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) director George Lombardi submitted a letter of resignation to then-Governor Jay Nixon on December 14, 2016. Lombardi, who spent over 31 years in corrections, agreed to resign following a series of reports that exposed a vast culture of harassment and retaliation among state prison employees which resulted in millions of dollars in lawsuit verdicts and settlements.

However, Lombardi also applied to retain his position with incoming Governor Eric Greitens, though he later withdrew his application. Governor Greitens selected Anne L. Precythe, North Carolina’s former corrections director, who was confirmed by the state Senate in February 2017.

The shake-up at the Missouri DOC followed reports in Kansas City’s alternative newspaper, The Pitch, that there had been an explosion in the number of complaints alleging workplace harassment based on sex, religion and disability during Lombardi’s tenure. The weekly newspaper’s investigation revealed that from 2012 to 2016, the state paid over $7.5 million to settle lawsuits and pay judgments, some of which were for retaliation for reporting workplace misconduct.

Governor Greitens did not try to hide his opinion of Lombardi.

“Missouri’s Department of Corrections is broken and that puts public safety at risk,” he stated in a press release. “Our corrections officers struggle in a culture of harassment and neglect, in a department with low morale and shockingly high turnover.”

After the reports appeared in The Pitch, state Republicans pulled their support for Lombardi to stay on the job when Greitens took office in January 2017.

“He [Lombardi] knew what was taking place and nothing was being done,” said state Rep. Paul Fitzwater, when asked about the alleged culture of harassment in the DOC. “Someone dropped the ball here. I don’t know why we were not told. I know there needs to be some changes.”

Lombardi remained on the job until his replacement was confirmed. He did not return calls for comment, but said in a letter that he thought the initiatives put in place during his tenure made Missouri’s prison system a “national model.”

“I now walk away with as much dignity as I can muster and with the advice to each and every one of you to stand tall and have great pride in all you do each and every day,” Lombardi wrote in a letter to DOC employees announcing his resignation.

To the media, however, he stated, “I’m not interested in talking to you.”

Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson said he expected the House and Senate to conduct a joint investigation into harassment and retaliation in the DOC.

Governor Greitens cast a nationwide net in his search for Lombardi’s replacement before selecting Precythe, who said she will have “zero tolerance” for staff who do not report incidents of retaliation or harassment, or who fail to respond to such complaints.

“Zero tolerance does not necessarily mean everybody gets put on administrative leave or subsequently gets fired, but it means that we’re going to take all complaints seriously and we’re going to look into them,” Precythe declared. “That, to me, is what really gets to creating a safe environment.” 

Sources: The Pitch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Public Radio, KY3-TV

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