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$5,000 to Conn. Prisoner in Retaliation Lawsuit

by Lonnie Burton

On April 24, 2014, a Connecticut state prisoner and the Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to settle a claim brought by the prisoner which alleged that he was terminated from his prison job after he filed a grievance against a guard who made a racially-insensitive comment to him. Without admitting liability or wrongdoing, the state agreed to pay the prisoner $5,000 free of deductions, and give him a job.

According to court documents filed in connection with the lawsuit lodged in federal court, Michael Braham was a student in the Small Engine Repair Class at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Just prior to graduating that class in August 2007, Brahm filed a grievance against a guard who Brahm said made a racial slur toward him. Braham was then hired as a teacher's aide in the same class just three weeks later. But his employment was terminated after working for only one week. The deputy warden said Brahm wasn't "eligible" for the job due to past infractions. The same deputy warden had conferred with the grievance coordinator about Brahm's grievance.

Braham then filed several internal complaints that he was being retaliated against for filing the grievance. Brahm said that denying him a job they already approved him for based on old disciplinary tickets was just "a pretext to cover up their reataliation."

In October 2008, acting pro se, Brehm filed suit in Connecticut federal court claiming Cheshire staff violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for exercising his right to file a grievance. Pro bono counsel later appeared on Braham's behalf in 2013, leading to the settlement about a year later.

The settlement seems to have been spurred after the Braham filed a spoilation motion in which he claimed defendants purposely lost a job approval document which would have proved Brahm's case. According to Brahm, the form showed that his counselor, unit manager, the deputy warden, and the warden all aproved Braham for the teacher's aide position, but then used the pretext of infraction history to deny him the job only after receiving his complaint about the racial slur.

See: Braham v. Lantz, et al., No. 3:08CV1564 (D. Conn. 2014).

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Related legal case

Braham v. Lantz