Former Iowa CO wins $2 million in workplace retaliation lawsuit

The former CO who sued the Iowa DOC on retaliation claims was awarded $2M


Erin Jordan
The Gazette, Cedar — Rapids, Iowa

LEE COUNTY, Iowa — A former correctional officer at Iowa State Penitentiary who complained about graphic movies watched by inmates, who later sued based on retaliation claims, won a $2 million jury award last week.

A Polk County jury decided last Wednesday the Iowa Department of Corrections had retaliated against Kristine Sink by placing her on leave, investigating her and accusing her of stealing after she lost an earlier civil rights lawsuit.

Former correctional officer Kristine Sink speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley, File)
Former correctional officer Kristine Sink speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley, File)

The jury also said the state failed to provide reasonable accommodations for Sink, who asked to have minimal contact with inmates because of anxiety and stress caused by inmates verbally harassing her and masturbating in front of her.

Sink, who worked for the state penitentiary in Fort Madison from 2002 through 2016, first sued the state in 2012. She complained about the prison allowing inmates to watch violent or sexually graphic movies.

She said the films caused inmates to threaten her and masturbate toward her, while supervisors made light of her complaints.

The penitentiary barred movies with sexually-graphic content in 2011, according to a 2015 Des Moines Register story. The prison shifted her to a position screening visitors, instead of interacting with inmates — a change sought by Sink.

But after Sink lost the lawsuit in 2014, she was assigned to supervise 73 inmates alone, according to a lawsuit she filed in 2015. She was put on leave, pending an investigation, and officials accused her of accepting stolen property because she had asked another CO to make a video of an inmate masturbating toward her, the suit states.

Throughout 2015, Sink tried to get ISP to change her work environment because of her stress and anxiety around inmates, but was told administrators would not provide accommodations or approve extension of medical leave, the lawsuit states.

Sink was fired Jan. 10, 2016.

The jury this week said Sink had not proved her claims of disability discrimination. The $2 million award includes $175,000 for lost past earnings, $575,000 for past emotional distress and $1.25 million for lost future earnings. Because this is a civil rights case, state law allows for the losing party to pay legal costs, according to Emily McCarty at Fiedler & Timmer, in Johnston.

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©2018 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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