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California Prison Psychologist Blows Whistle on LGBTQ Harassment, Settles Lawsuit for Retaliation

by Dale Chappell

A prison psychologist who filed a complaint under the California Whistleblower Protection Act alleging blatant abuse by state prison guards against LGBTQ prisoners has agreed to settle her lawsuit and resign.

Dr. Lori Jespersen, who had worked for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) since 2008, filed a complaint against various prison officials and guards, including Robert Fox, Joan Gerbasi and Tia McDaniels, that detailed ongoing abuse of LGBTQ prisoners at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.

In her complaint, Jespersen, who identifies as a gender non-conforming lesbian, identified numerous incidents in which prison staff harassed LGBTQ prisoners. Included were comments by staff that “this is a men’s prison, you are not a ‘she.’”

Jespersen’s complaint also revealed a Facebook post by CDCR employees that “outed” a transgender prisoner, with derogatory comments posted on the site. McDaniels was quoted as shouting at a support group for transgender prisoners, “You’re no woman, you have a dick, your breasts can’t give milk.”

“CDCR and its employees have actively degraded and dehumanized its LGBTQ community by jeopardizing their privacy and safety, verbally assaulting and endangering gay and transgender patients and interacting with LGBTQ patients and employees in blatantly discriminatory and hostile ways,” Jespersen argued in her suit.

She asked the court for protection from retaliation by CDCR officials, and cited in support of her request comments by McDaniels that Jespersen “needs to be reminded of where she’s at,” and “I hate that motherfucking bitch.” She contended that she was constructively demoted and harassed after raising concerns about the abuse by CDCR staff members.

“Dr. Jespersen lives in constant fear of violence and harassment at work and at home. As a result of the discrimination and harassment, she has experienced emotional and physical distress including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, weight gain, and teeth grinding,” her complaint stated. “On a daily basis, Dr. Jespersen’s passion for life and profession has dissipated as she sits in a desk job unable to see patients or provide mental health care that she is licensed and trained to provide.”

In May 2018, Jespersen agreed to settle her lawsuit for $275,000, of which she will keep about half after attorneys’ fees and costs.

“She’s happy in the sense that her complaints were not going to be in vain, that her advocacy for herself and her community were not going to be wasted,” said Felicia Medina, Jespersen’s attorney. “She wanted CDCR to be aware that there are people who are going to come forward.” See: Jespersen v. Calif. Dept. of Corr., Solano County Superior Court (CA), Case No. FC5050123 and Jespersen v. Calif. Dept. of Corr., U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:18-cv-00246-JAM. 


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Related legal cases

Jespersen v. Calif. Dept. of Corr.

Jespersen v. Calif. Dept. of Corr.