by Douglas Ankney
A lack of basic respect for female employees, as well as any notion of appropriate workplace behavior, continues to plague state agencies in Missouri, most notably the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC). And the cost to taxpayers is staggering. Lawsuits against the state, including those over sexual harassment, cost taxpayers at least $23 million in 2017 alone.
In December 2018, Missouri officials agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a claim filed by former prison caseworker Jennifer LaFleur, with $297,607 going to LaFleur and the remainder to her attorney.
While working for the DOC, LaFleur experienced sexual harassment by her male co-workers at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center and the Kansas City Re-Entry Center. The harassment included comments that her uniform was tight and “you can see her assets”; being called a “c*nt” on an ongoing basis; being asked to give blow jobs in the control room; being told by her supervisor that he was renting a hotel room so she and another female worker could have a threesome with him; and being told her “boobs look really nice in that shirt.”
After LaFleur filed a complaint with the warden, she was subjected to retaliation. Among other things, her co-workers gave her phone number to prisoners who began calling her at home. Internal affairs then began investigating the calls, accusing LaFleur of smuggling cell phones and other contraband. She received disciplinary reports, but at the hearing wasn’t allowed to take notes. She was suspended. When she returned to work, she discovered her colleagues had spread lies to prisoners regarding the reasons for her suspension.
While the large settlement will compensate LaFleur for the grossly inappropriate harassment she endured, it does little to deter the conduct of abusive prison staff. The money does not come from those who committed the harassment, and ultimately taxpayers have to foot the bill.
In response to the growing number of claims filed by female prison employees, the DOC established an Office of Professional Standards and a zero-tolerance policy for failure to report harassment in 2017.
“The department is working hard to fundamentally transform the culture,” said DOC spokeswoman Karen Pojmann. “We’re holding regular town hall meetings in all facilities ... giving staff the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns.” See: LaFleur v. Missouri Department of Corrections, Jackson County Circuit Court (MO), Case No. 1716-CV28240.
PLN has repeatedly reported on cases involving female Missouri DOC employees being sexually harassed by male co-workers, resulting in millions of dollars in settlements, including $1.6 million paid to DOC guard Tina Gallego in April 2018. [See: PLN, Feb. 2019, p.33; Feb. 2018, p.1, 15]
Additional sources: stltoday.com, fox2now.com
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Related legal case
LaFleur v. Missouri Department of Corrections
|Cite||Jackson County Circuit Court (MO), Case No. 1716-CV28240|