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Missouri taxpayers paying $550,000 to settle parole officer's hostile workplace claim

Missouri taxpayers paying $550,000 to settle parole officer's hostile workplace claim

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JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri taxpayers are on the hook for another six-figure legal payout after a state parole officer alleged she was retaliated against when she blew the whistle on apparent drug use by prison inmates.

In August, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office signed off on a $550,000 settlement with former probation officer Terri Reynolds, who said one of her superiors became hostile when she found some prisoners who were due to be released had failed drug tests.

In her 2017 lawsuit, Reynolds said a deputy warden at the Kansas City Reentry Center was telling offenders their release dates, while she was having to delay those releases because of the failed drug tests.

When she told the deputy warden that his actions were angering inmates and potentially putting her in harm’s way, he stopped talking to her.

Reynolds, who had worked for the prison system since 2003, then told the warden about a “frightening and threatening encounter” with the deputy warden. The situation further escalated when she received a letter of reprimand from Ellis McSwain, the former chairman of the Missouri Probation and Parole Board, who said she was being insubordinate.

That letter barred Reynolds, who was earning $36,500 per year at the time, from receiving promotions within the agency.

The settlement is the latest in a growing list of six- and seven-figure payments  connected with discrimination and harassment of women workers within state government.

In response to the millions of dollars in settlements and judgments, Hawley began posting a monthly list of legal expenses on his website. The August list is the most recent report available.

In 2017, lawsuits against the state cost Missouri taxpayers at least $23 million.

In addition, Hawley also is considering whether to appeal a $113.7 million jury verdict in favor of 13,000 state prison guards, who alleged they were routinely not paid for work done once they arrived at the prisons.

In Reynolds’ case, she will receive a total of $271,331. Three law firms that represented her will each receive an average of about $92,000.

As part of the settlement agreement, Reynolds agreed to never seek a job with the Department of Corrections. Payroll records indicate she now is employed as a youth specialist in the Department of Social Services.

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