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Former CoreCivic Nurse in Colorado Claims Sex Discrimination, Retaliation After Filing Complaint About Poor Medical Care

A former CoreCivic nurse who worked at the private, for-profit company’s Bent County Jail in Colorado filed a federal lawsuit March 18, 2020, claiming sex discrimination by her supervisors after she filed complaints about the lack of medical care to prisoners.

CoreCivic workers at the Bent County Jail go by pseudonyms to protect their identity. When it was revealed that Danette Karapetian, who went by “DJ,” was using her old stage name from when she was a Hawaiian Tropic bikini model 25 years ago, her supervisor harassed her about it, her lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado says. Within the next four months, nurse Supervisor Angie Turner reportedly set on a path to get Karapetian fired, and when that happened she sued.

Karapetian’s lawsuit raised three inter-related issues that she says were the bases for her termination: (1) “sex discrimination” by supervisors; (2) “retaliation for engaging [in] protected activity in opposition to sex discrimination”; and (3) “wrongful discharge in violation of public policy” after Karapetian filed complaints about poor medical care at the jail.

The first claim stemmed from Turner’s admission to coworkers that she was “angered and upset” about Karapetian’s past and was “looking for a reason to discipline and fire Ms. Karapetian as a result,” court papers say.

Karapetian says Turner looked at her “through the lens of sex-based stereotypes of her bikini-modeling past,” and she began “concocting” stories that she was “flirting” with prisoners. Turner, the lawsuit claims, accused the prisoners of “grooming” Karapetian for sexual relations. This led to retaliation and less-favorable terms and conditions of employment because of her sex, she says. She also was held to higher standards than her male counterparts and female coworkers who conformed to sex stereotypes.

Karapetian pointed to witnesses in her lawsuit who could testify that Turner escalated things and spread false rumors that she was moonlighting as a stripper, and that Turner showed “visible outrage and disgust” about Karapetian’s past modeling days. Turned created a “hostile work environment,” Karapetian’s lawsuit says.

She also filed complaints that Turner was withholding medical care from prisoners. Around mid-July 2018, Karapetian reported that diabetic prisoners were not having their blood sugar levels checked as required. When Karapetian one day told Tuner that the diabetics were lined up for their daily checks, Turner ordered her to tell them that blood sugar checks were “cancelled.” Four days later, Turner again cancelled their finger stick tests. Karapetian filed a complaint that Turner’s actions “violated standards of care” and put the prisoners at “an unnecessary risk.”

Karapetian filed complaints with CoreCivic’s “Ethics Line” about the poor medical care and that Turner was allowing “medical negligence” at the jail. She also complained that Turner was retaliating against her and talking about firing her to other jail employees. Karapetian’s lawsuit says that jail workers warned her to “stay away” from Turner.

On September 14, 2018, Karapetian says she arrived at work and was called to talk to Turner. She was told that she was being disciplined for what Karapetian calls “pretextual reasons” and “false accusations.” Her lawsuit cites state and federal laws that protect her whistleblower-type claims and which prohibit retaliation against healthcare workers who file complaints about patient care and safety.

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Related legal case

Karapetian v. CoreCivic