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$200,000 Awarded to Missouri Prison Guard Over Sexual Harassment, Retaliation

On October 3, 2019, a Missouri jury entered judgment in favor of a former Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) employee who alleged she had suffered workplace sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation. The jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages.

Ana Barrios was hired by the DOC as a probation and parole assistant at the Kansas City Community Release Center in September 2014. A year later, she was promoted to corrections officer and the release center was turned into a minimum-security prison to house prisoners nearing parole. At the same time, it was renamed the Kansas City Re-Entry Center.

Within a year of the renaming, workplace abuse she experienced led her to quit her job.

With the assistance of attorneys Mark Eldon Meyer and Cyril Jerome Wrabec, Barrios filed a lawsuit against the DOC in state court. She alleged the sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation she suffered was “continuous, ongoing, unbroken [and] adopted as a pattern” by the DOC.

Barrios testified that the sexual harassment began within six months of being hired and often centered around the other DOC employees dislike that she was dating a Black man.

For instance, at a celebration of the prison’s name change, a guard burned some hot dogs, saying that Barrios liked her hot dogs “really burnt.” Barrios did not hear the comment when it was made but, when told about it later, took it as a discriminatory and sexually harassing statement about her dating a Black man.

Barrios also testified that some other guards called her “bitch” and “whore.”

When she filed a complaint with the human resources department, her co-workers retaliated against her. When she met with a human resources representative, he downplayed her concerns, saying she must have misunderstood the other guards’ comments.

Barrios testified that she experienced increased anxiety because of the harassment and this caused her to have a nervous stomach.

Because of the harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, Barrios resigned in February 2016. However, she was rehired in March 2016, after the three guards who were harassing her the most were suspended and not expected to return to work. She resigned again in July 2016, amidst continuing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

The harassment continued after she resigned the second time as other guards falsely claimed she had sex with prisoners, smuggled drugs, and was employed by a Hispanic prison gang while she was employed by the DOC.

Following a nine-day trial which began on September 24, 2019, the jury found in her favor on claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation. It found in the DOC’s favor on additional claims of racial discrimination and disability discrimination. The jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages but declined to award punitive damages. See: Barrios v. Missouri Department of Corrections, Cir. Ct. of Jackson Cty., Mo., Case No. 1716-CV16646 Div. 10.