In what has become a troubling trend for Missouri Department of Corrections, another employee has won a sexual harassment lawsuit against the department. The state paid out another $600,000 to settle a lawsuit brought on by Michelle Findley, a prison guard, who said that male employees referred to her using sexually derogatory names.
Findley, who wears her hair short, was also called a lesbian and shown pictures of a penis. After filing a lawsuit against the department, Findley was stabbed by a person wearing a mask, suffering injuries to her face and forearms. Shortly thereafter she transferred to a different prison.
This settlement is just the latest in an ongoing trend of lawsuits filed against the Missouri DoC. Taxpayers have been asked to foot the bill for over $50 million in settlements and verdicts that have gone against the State of Missouri with roughly $23 million of that in 2017 alone. Six of the 45 major cases have been filed against the Department of Corrections, mostly from women alleging sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
The problem is rampant and seems to indicate a culture of inappropriate behavior that is being tolerated. Unfortunately for the department, that inappropriate behavior is also illegal and violates the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Missouri DoC Gets a Massive Makeover
In 2016, Governor Eric Greitens appointed Anne Precythe to oversee the DoC amid numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and other poor working conditions. Since then, she has replaced 75% of the individuals occupying major positions of authority within the department. That includes senior-level managers and wardens.
When Precythe took over in 2016, she promised to have a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, and supervisory indifference toward addressing the many concerns that have been leveled at the department over the past few years.
Discrimination and Harassment Cases Go Beyond the DoC
A number of high-profile sexual, racial, and discrimination charges based on disability have been filed against various Missouri departments over the last few years. These include a $2 million verdict against the Department of Labor, a $1.7 million verdict against the Department of Revenue, and a $4.6 million verdict in favor of a Missouri school teacher who alleged racial and sexual discrimination.
In March of 2018, new legislation passed that forced the Attorney General to submit a monthly report of settlements and verdicts against the state, but Attorney General Josh Hawley had been publishing the figures voluntarily since last year. So, it is unclear what, if any, impact such a resolution will have on the current flurry of lawsuits in violation of Missouri human rights statutes.
Attempts have been made to investigate the Department of Corrections, but the lawsuits keep coming with favorable settlements and verdicts for plaintiffs. Although as Anne Precythe will tell you, changing the culture of the institution will not happen overnight.