Former Vermont Corrections Officer Files Suit for Harassment

As reported in Vermont Today, Michael Davis, a former corrections officer for the state of Vermont, has filed a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Corrections alleging sexual harassment, discrimination based on disability, and retaliation. The lawsuit, filed by sexual harassment attorneys Friedman & Houlding LLP, on June 23, 2011 in the U.S. District Court for Vermont, seeks damages for Davis’ emotional distress and lost wages, as well as punitive damages.The lawsuit describes the facts of the case as follows:

Davis began working for the Department of Corrections at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vermont in 2005. In 2007, an inmate punched Davis in the groin. A year later, Davis was still experiencing pain in his groin area, so he took a two-week leave from work. He returned to work in January 2009 still in pain, and he found the beginning of a pattern of harassment and abuse that would continue until he left his employment there. First a supervisor e-mailed Davis information on sexually-transmitted diseases, which he took as a reference to his groin pain. Soon after, he received as e-mail with a photograph of a nude male doll holding its groin area. Subsequent e-mails included photographs showing Davis’ face placed on nude male bodies and other images Davis found highly offensive.

The Vermont Rutland Herald reported that the suit alleges that the two shift supervisors who created these images then circulated printed copies to other employees, both male and female. Copies were placed in areas where both employees and inmates could view them. In February 2009, Davis took leave for hernia surgery. While on leave, he made a complaint to his union representative.When Davis returned from leave, he found the work environment had become hostile. He received threatening notes in his mailbox at work. Inmates approached him asking for money in exchange for information on who was disclosing Davis’ medical information to the inmates. Other inmates began mocking Davis openly.

Davis was eventually transferred to a higher-security area within the prison, where the inmates have no contact with the rest of the prison population. He found that even the inmates there knew about his medical condition. Harassment from both coworkers and inmates continued through the summer of 2009, causing Davis increased anxiety and distress. At one point a medical provider wrote a letter to the Vermont DOC explaining how damaging the inmate harassment was but the employer failed to correct the problem.

In September 2009, Davis suffered a shoulder injury during a Use of Force training. He eventually found a position in the state’s Agency for Transportation.

Davis alleges that the Department of Corrections violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against him due to his medical condition. He also alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act, in that he suffered discrimination based on gender and disability. He alleges unlawful retaliation under both laws because of his complaints about the offensive behavior to his employer and his union representative. If he prevails on his claims, he may recover damages for his mental anguish and lost wages due to the harassment and abuse, as well as the possibility of punitive damages.

sexual harassment attorney Joshua Friedman represents employees who have endured hostile work environments due to harassment or discrimination based on gender or disability. Contact him today for a free and confidential consultation.

Web Resources:

Vermont Department of Corrections homepage
Reporting And Investigating Unlawful Discrimination, Sexual Harrassment, and Retaliation In The Workplace (PDF), Vermont Department of Corrections, August 21, 1995

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