Mo. pays another settlement in latest harassment case involving female CO

Michelle Findley filed a lawsuit in March 2016 contending that male co-workers used sexually derogatory terms toward her


By Kurt Erickson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — State officials paid out nearly $600,000 in February to settle another sexual harassment case involving a female prison guard.

According to a report issued by the Missouri attorney general’s office, Michelle Findley received a check for $284,500 in February. Her attorneys received a total of $291,443 in the case.

Maximum security housing units at the new Jefferson City Correctional Center sit below dormitory-style housing at a the minimum security Algoa Correctional Center Thursday, June 24, 2004, in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/Kelley McCall)
Maximum security housing units at the new Jefferson City Correctional Center sit below dormitory-style housing at a the minimum security Algoa Correctional Center Thursday, June 24, 2004, in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/Kelley McCall)

Findley was a correctional officer when she filed a lawsuit in March 2016 contending that male co-workers used sexually derogatory terms toward her, was shown pictures of a penis and was referred to as a lesbian because she had short hair.

After filing her lawsuit, Findley was stabbed by a person wearing a mask in the parking lot of the Kansas City lock-up where she worked, suffering wounds to her bag, legs, face and forearms. She later transferred to a different prison.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in January, but court records show a settlement agreement was reached and the lawsuit was dismissed.

The payout is the latest in a string of settlements and court decisions in which taxpayers have been charged more than $52 million over the past five years.

In 2017, lawsuits against the state cost at least $23 million, with 16 of the 45 major payouts related to employment discrimination. Six of those cases involved Missouri Department of Corrections workers.

The department, which oversees inmates in 21 prisons across the state, has been under a microscope for its low pay and harsh working conditions. A 2017 employee survey found that it ranked last among all state agencies in terms of organizational health.

Director Anne Precythe, who was brought in to oversee the agency in 2016 by Gov. Eric Greitens, has replaced more than three-quarters of senior level managers and wardens.

She also is overseeing training of supervisors designed to reduce turnover, overtime and disciplinary problems among the agency’s 11,000 workers.

Harassment and discrimination problems aren’t limited to the state’s prison system.

In 2016, former Rep. Gracia Backer won a $2 million settlement after being fired from the Missouri Department of Labor in 2013 because she complained that her boss — former Department of Labor Director Larry Rebman — had created a hostile work environment.

In 2015, Terrie Fuchs was awarded $1.7 million after a jury agreed that she was mistreated by her supervisors in the Missouri Department of Revenue because she had cerebral palsy.

Patricia Daniels, a former teacher at a state youth services school in Kansas City, won a $4.6 million judgment after she was subjected to racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Her case is being appealed.

Legislation requiring the attorney general to submit a monthly report on settlements and judgments being paid out by the state was approved in the House last month and is pending in the Missouri Senate.

Attorney General Josh Hawley began voluntarily releasing those figures last year.

©2018 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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