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Missouri shells out another $600,000 in harassment case filed by prison worker

Missouri shells out another $600,000 in harassment case filed by prison worker


JEFFERSON CITY • A Missouri Department of Corrections employee has won a $600,000 settlement from the state after she alleged male co-workers at two state prisons regularly harassed her.

The taxpayer-funded payout, approved in January, included $297,607 to prison caseworker Jennifer LaFleur and more than $303,000 to attorneys who worked on her case, which was filed in Jackson County in 2017.

The settlement, announced in a monthly report Monday by Attorney General Eric Schmitt, is the latest involving female state workers within the prison system and elsewhere in state government that have cost millions of dollars that could have gone to other state programs.

The lawsuit, first reported by the Kansas City Star, said LaFleur was harassed while working at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in St. Joseph and the Kansas City Re-Entry Center.

In a pattern that has emerged in numerous other cases, LaFleur said male coworkers called her sexually explicit names, commented on her body and asked for sex.

In response to the millions of dollars in settlements and judgments, former Attorney General Josh Hawley began posting a monthly list of legal expenses on his website. The January 2019 list, now administered by Schmitt, is the most recent report available.

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

A tally for 2018 was not immediately available, but the January report notes that there are an estimated $404 million in contested pending claims, down from about $414 million at the same time last year.

In response to the growing number of discrimination and harassment claims filed by female Corrections workers, the agency established an Office of Professional Standards in 2017.

And, DOC Director Anne Precythe said she was implementing a zero-tolerance policy for managers who failed to respond to misconduct allegations.

In a statement, Corrections' spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said more than 2,000 supervisors in the department have undergone training designed to improve communication within the agency.

"The department is working hard to fundamentally transform the culture," Pojmann said Monday. "We’re holding regular town hall meetings in all facilities, regions and offices, giving staff the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns."

The agency also has beefed up the number of women in leadership posts. All four division directors are women, and more than a third of the wardens are women.

Problems with harassment and discrimination are not limited to the state’s 21 lockups. Over the past six years, taxpayers have been charged more than $52 million to settle similar cases across the spectrum of state agencies.

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