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Wisconsin Paid Former Prison Employees $105,000 to Settle Harassment Cases

by Derek Gilna

Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) paid $105,000 to settle a pair of federal civil rights lawsuits filed by two former employees. Both of the women claimed they were fired in retaliation for their testimony alleging sexual harassment by a supervisor at a state prison near Union Grove.

According to DOC spokesperson Tristan Cook, Health Services Manager Susan Nygren was recently placed on administrative leave from her job at the Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center, a women’s prison. However, she continues to receive her $97,500 annual salary.

Nygren initially denied the allegations against her. Yet a pair of investigations conducted by the DOC and the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission turned up evidence of sexual harassment, according to court documents.

In January 2017, the DOC agreed to pay $55,000 to Felicia Brown, a phlebotomist employed at the Ellsworth prison through Guardian Healthcare Providers, a private staffing contractor.

Brown’s sexual harassment complaint was filed in 2015, but it began with a December 2010 incident in which she claimed Nygren gave her an uninvited kiss on the mouth. In a second incident in 2012, Nygren allegedly kissed Brown on the forehead and exposed her underwear to show off her tan lines.

After reporting both incidents to her supervisor at Guardian, Brown said the firm used “the pretext of absenteeism and lack of productivity” to fire her in March 2013. In entering into the settlement, DOC officials did not admit to any fault and Brown agreed not to seek employment again at a DOC facility. Guardian was not part of the agreement. See: Brown v. Wisconsin DOC, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Wisc.), Case No. 2:15-cv-00843-PP.

Then in March 2017, the DOC agreed to pay $50,000 to Camilla Selmon, a former nurse at the Racine Correctional Institution in Sturtevant, about 11 miles from the Ellsworth prison where Brown worked. See: Selmon v. Wisconsin DOC, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Wisc.), Case No. 2:15-cv-00977-PP.

Selmon had provided corroboration of Brown’s claims against Nygren to DOC investigators in April 2013, adding that Nygren had also said her health insurance would cover Brown if they became partners.

Three days later Nygren gave Selmon a poor job performance review. In July 2013, she fired Selmon.

The DOC eventually released the results of its investigation after Brown’s firing, which found Nygren had “failed to exercise good judgment,” but no disciplinary action was taken at that time.

Separately, Nygren was suspended for three days without pay in July 2016 for harassing African-American employees with comments that black people were afraid of dogs and an employee’s eyeglasses didn’t fit well because “black people have flat noses”; she also reportedly said she had “a butt like a black girl.”

Nygren denied making the first two comments, but allowed the third may have been something she said.

Brown stated her lawsuit “was not about the dollar amount,” but rather was intended to make Nygren “accountable for what she did.”

According to an April 16, 2018 news report about Nygren’s most recent suspension, DOC spokesperson Cook said the agency had “received allegations of work rule violations regarding Sue Nygren and has placed her on administrative leave while we conduct an internal personnel investigation.” 

Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel


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Related legal cases

Brown v. Wisconsin DOC

Selmon v. Wisconsin DOC