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Over $488,000 Awarded to Former Michigan Prison Warden in Retaliation Suit

by David M. Reutter

A federal district court awarded $488,111.78 to Jeffrey P. Larson, formerly a warden with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). He alleged that he was subjected to retaliation for defending and supporting the promotion of his administrative assistant, Larriann Ludwick.

Larson was asked to “right the ship” at the Central Michigan Correctional Facility in February 2013. He said Ludwick was instrumental in overhauling the prison in a timely manner. Larson’s superior, MDOC assistant deputy director Michael Curley, however, “was locked in the 1950s when it came to women in prison administration.” He “viewed women as objects of sexual gratification only and refused to believe that women, including Ludwick, could contribute to the institutional mission.”

Rather than accepting that Ludwick was doing a great job, Curley frequently insisted that Larson “must be having sex” with her based on Larson’s praise of her work, because Curley believed “no woman can be that good.”

Larson supported Ludwick’s several attempts to be promoted to deputy warden, which caused the relationship between Curley and Larson to deteriorate. Their prior friendship became blatantly antagonistic. Larson’s complaint listed seven specific instances of Curley’s “unbridled gender bias,” yet MDOC officials refused to address or acknowledge those complaints. The MDOC then “conducted rigged internal affairs investigations against” Larson and Ludwick for the “obvious purpose of concealing its wrongdoing and justifying its illegal actions against [Larson] and Ludwick.”

Prison officials then used Larson’s December 1, 2013 second drunk driving arrest as a pretext to target him.

Larson’s complaint accused the MDOC and Curley of enlisting local law enforcement officers to conduct surveillance that led to Larson being arrested and jailed for several days on bogus charges that he was in violation of drug court rules – charges that were later dismissed. Based on his arrest, the MDOC conducted a “witch-hunt” investigation that culminated in Larson’s four-level demotion to a residential unit manager, with a $38,000 annual pay cut. He retired from the MDOC in 2017.

In May 2019, an eight-member state court jury found in Larson’s favor, vindicating him. During the trial, testimony was presented about how corrupt MDOC officials would target certain employees for retaliatory discipline. In addition to the jury award of $438.151.88, the district court awarded $49,959.88 in interest. Larson was represented by Pinckney attorney James K. Fett. See: Larson v. Department of Corrections, Ingham County Circuit Court (MI), Case No. 15-454-CD.

Separately, Ludwick received a $190,000 settlement from the MDOC in a sexual discrimination suit in 2017. Curley has reportedly retired from the MDOC; in 2016, he received a four-day suspension “after using a vulgar term to say he planned to hire the applicant for a secretary’s job who had large breasts,” according to a news report. 

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Additional source: Detroit Free Press

Related legal case

Larson v. Department of Corrections