MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

August 30, 2013

DOC faces suit by former Jess Dunn worker

Woman alleges sexual harassment

A former corrections worker filed a lawsuit against the state agency and a dozen prison administrators who allegedly engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment or helped cover it up.

A petition filed in Muskogee County District Court paints a picture of a woman trapped nearly two years in a rumor mill at Jess Dunn Correctional Center. The plaintiff, Marcilla Nicole Stewart, alleges she became the object of sexual harassment within weeks of starting her job at the Taft minimum security prison.

That harassment, Stewart alleges, persisted almost continuously for the 22 months before she left her job at the prison. According to her petition, “Stewart was subjected to unchecked sexual harassment and gender discrimination occurring with near constant frequency.”

Brian L. Mitchell, a Tulsa lawyer who represents Stewart, described his client’s predicament as “a pretty bad situation.” He declined to discuss the lawsuit further, saying the petition speaks for itself.

Jerry Massie, public information for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said officials there “generally won’t comment on pending lawsuits.” After learning Thursday about the factual allegations, Massie said the lawsuit “sounds more like an employee issue ... and maybe a disgruntled employee.”

Stewart, according to the petition, was dogged by colleagues who promised better assignments in exchange for nude photographs or sexual favors. Another co-worker allegedly groped her with the pretense of demonstrating a frisk in the presence of a supervisor while others are alleged to have spread rumors about the plaintiff’s purported promiscuity.

The petition alleges Stewart and other co-workers reported the conduct she complains of to supervisors all the way up the chain of command at Jess Dunn. Stewart alleges not one supervisor, from the warden on down, took any steps to protect her from the harassment detailed in her petition.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and 12 Jess Dunn employees or former employees, some of whom were top prison administrators. The 12 people sued in their individual capacities while acting under the color of law include Warden Michael Mullin, Deputy Warden Terry Martin, five lieutenants, three security chiefs and a sergeant.

All but one of the individual defendants were named either for failing to take corrective actions against those who engaged in conduct that, if proven, would violate agency policies or state and federal laws. Sgt. Vicki Kyzer allegedly groped and fondled Stewart during a “simulated pat-down” in the presence “of five other officers.”

Stewart alleges rumors about her spread by co-workers and inmates were proven to be false during an internal investigation. Even then, Stewart alleges, prison administrators failed to quash those rumors by taking corrective action and created “a hostile work environment.”

According to Stewart’s petition, the circumstances at Jess Dunn became so stressful she was “picked up from the facility and rushed to the emergency room complaining of chest pains and numbness.” Stewart was diagnosed then as having a “severe anxiety attack.”

Stewart is seeking to recover damages for assault and battery, defamation of character, intentional infliction of emotional distress and a civil rights violation alleging intentional gender-based discrimination. She is seeking actual damages in excess of $75,000 along with punitive damages, attorney fees and costs.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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