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Indiana County Settles Jail Guard’s ADA/Discrimination Suit for $150,000

by Matt Clarke

In July 2017, an Indiana county settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by former jail guard Michael A. Jones that included claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The suit alleged the jail refused to accommodate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his finding a prisoner who tried to kill himself, refused to act on his complaints that other employees used racial slurs, then fired him in retaliation.

According to court documents, Jones, who is black, worked at the LaPorte County Jail for 15 years. During that time he endured racial slurs by his supervisor and another guard. His internal complaints about the slurs resulted in no action, but he was treated differently by his superiors after he complained.

Despite an exemplary work record, Jones was demoted while on leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to care for his wife who had suffered a heart attack. When he returned to work, it was as a jailer instead of an administrative deputy. Then he was made a “floater” rather than being assigned regular duties. He was also routinely told that no radio was available for him even though white jailers received radios. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging racial discrimination.

Three months later, Jones was making his rounds when he discovered a prisoner who had hung himself in a suicide attempt. Jones took quick action and was able to save the prisoner’s life, but was unable to summon help because he had no radio. The incident caused him to seek assistance from a psychologist who diagnosed him with PTSD, began treatment and recommended he have limited exposure to the cell where the incident occurred.

Jones requested that his exposure to the cell be limited, but his request was denied. Instead, he was fired. He filed a second EEOC complaint alleging racial discrimination and retaliation.

Aided by Merrillville, Indiana attorney Rick C. Gikas, Jones filed a federal civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 2000e and 12111, alleging racial discrimination, failure to accommodate a disability and retaliation. The EEOC took the unusual step of not only finding probable cause for the complaints, but intervening on behalf of Jones in the litigation. That resulted in the case going to a hearing before a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which led the county to seek a settlement.

The settlement agreement included a payment of $150,000 to Jones for emotional distress; the county’s insurer paid all but $10,000 of that amount. See: Jones v. LaPorte County Sheriff’s Department, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ind.), Case No. 3:13-cv-01330-JD.

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Related legal case

Jones v. LaPorte County Sheriff’s Department