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Kentucky Prison Guards Settle Sexual Harassment Suit for $1.5 Million

by David M. Reutter

A $1.5 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit alleging a male sergeant at Kentucky’s Little Sandy Correctional Complex (LSCC) sexually harassed four female guards. The settlement ended an appeal that followed a $1.6 million jury award.

“We think this shows the seriousness of the verdict,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Joe Childers.

The suit outlined allegations of sexual misconduct by Sergeant Stephen Harper from 2011 to 2014. One of the female guards he harassed, Jennifer Dennis, said she “periodically saw Stephen Harper standing in the bathroom with the lights off, exposing himself while he was in the process of masturbating.”

He also touched her in a “sexually offensive manner” and exposed his penis and asked her to touch it while they were in a segregation area in 2012.

Dennis reported the incidents to her supervisor, Laura Dennis, who violated Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) policy by not forwarding it to her supervisors. Jennifer Dennis resigned in 2014 because her claims were not investigated.

Guard Donna Adkins said Harper began to sexually harass her in April 2013. She alleged a series of attacks in which Harper touched her “buttocks, kissed her neck, grabbed her breast, and attempted to rape her.” He “also grabbed her hand and placed it on his penis.” 

Adkins reported the cumulative assaults to Captain Danny McGraw in September 2014. Rather than follow KDOC policy and report the allegations, McGraw had his brother, who was a detective with the Kentucky State Police, interview Adkins. He was “hostile” toward Adkins and her claims went no further.

Complaints of sexual misconduct by Harper toward guard Colleen Payton resulted in Harper being reassigned to the control room, which allowed him to interact with the plaintiffs and other female staff. Payton alleged that Harper exposed himself and tried to put his hands down her shirt and pants. He told her that if she would just “kiss him” he would stop. In all, she alleged four separate incidents from February to April 2013. Her complaints were found to be unsubstantiated.

Between January 2013 and July 2014, Harper allegedly sexually harassed guard Lisa Suliman “an estimated thirty times.” She claimed he exposed himself and tried to make her touch him, and that he touched her breasts and buttocks. She reported the incidents to Sgt. Dovie Kelly, who was “reprimanded for reporting ... Suliman’s sexual harassment complaint up the chain of command.”

The lawsuit, filed in state court, alleged the plaintiffs were subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation for reporting Harper’s sexual misconduct. A jury found in their favor, awarding the four women a total of $1.6 million in 2017; Harper reached a separate, confidential settlement. The KDOC appealed but agreed to a settlement before the appeal was resolved.

The $1.5 million settlement, reported in October 2018, included attorney’s fees. It awarded $356,250 each to Adkins and Dennis, and $393,750 each to Payton and Suliman. KDOC spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said the women “deserve closure and we were eager to have it resolved for the benefit of all parties, including taxpayers who would face even greater costs on appeal.” See: Adkins v. Memo, Elliot County Circuit Court (KY), Case No. 14-CI-61. 

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Additional sources: Associated Press, npr.org

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Adkins v. Memo


 

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