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Discrimination among staff of federal prison 

Forrest City institution guilty, administrative judge says.

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A federal prison at Forrest City unlawfully discriminated against a black employee, an administrative judge for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled.

In a scalding decision, the administrative judge, David R. Treeter, said that officials of the Forrest City Federal Correctional Institution knew that the institution’s facilities manager, Rickey Martin, was the victim of racial harassment, but did nothing to stop it. Instead, Treeter wrote, “the Agency’s focus has been on punishing Martin, not the resolution of the racial problems.” He ordered the federal Bureau of Prisons to pay Martin $50,000 in damages, and $82,450 in attorney’s fees to Sam T. Heuer of Little Rock, Martin’s lawyer.

Among Treeter’s findings of fact:

• “A group of [white] employees in the facilities department, Jody Cook, Jeff Roberts and Ray Anthony, harassed meetings that were conducted by Martin. These interruptions occurred on a daily basis. … Anytime Martin was speaking, the White employees caused a disruption, but when one of the White managers was speaking, the White employees quieted and listened.”

• “On June 18, 2003, Martin experienced difficulty with Cook refusing to allow an inmate to report to a meeting. Martin issued instructions that the inmate was to go where he was scheduled. Later that day, Cook and Roberts came to Martin’s office and kicked the door, stating that they wanted to talk to Martin. Cook complained about Martin issuing orders regarding the detail Cook was running. During the confrontation, Cook shook a detail pouch in Martin’s face, grazing his nose with the pouch. Martin reported the incident to the Associate Warden. Two weeks later, [Warden Cole] Jeter instructed Martin to report to the infirmary to have his nose treated.”

• “Martin was the only manager who was required to have his log entries approved by the Associate Warden.”

• “Under Jeter, Martin had to schedule meetings with the Warden while other department heads were permitted to visit the Warden’s office without appointments.”

• “The management at Forrest City chose to ignore the long history of racial problems among employees at the institution.”

In all, Treeter made 37 such findings. He also wrote that “The Administrative Judge finds that the witnesses advocating the Agency’s position are, for a variety of reasons, not credible. Both the demeanor of the witnesses and the lack of consistency in their testimony cause concern here.”

A hearing on Martin’s complaint against the Justice Department was held last December in Forrest City. Treeter’s decision is dated April 19.

Heuer said this week that Martin was still at the prison but had been demoted to correctional officer (guard). Martin is fighting the demotion too, Heuer said, but without success so far. Jeter, the white male warden who was much criticized in Treeter’s decision, has been replaced by a black woman.

And the Department of Justice, representing the Bureau of Prisons, last week appealed part of Treeter’s decision to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Office of Federal Operations. The Justice Department said the award of $50,000 to Martin was too much, and the amount should be reduced to $20,000. The department did not challenge the rest of the decision, including the $82,450 payment to Heuer.

In its appeal, the Justice Department said the award to Martin should be reduced because he “suffered emotional harm not only from the harassment, but also from other independent factors. For example, Warden Morrison testified that complainant’s mother ‘has been real sick and subsequently passed away.’ If [Martin’s] emotional stress was affected by his mother’s poor health and subsequent death, then this added stress is not compensable because it has nothing to do with the discrimination he suffered.”




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