Co-workers tormented KC-area corrections worker with sexual advances, lawsuit says

Sexual harassment is alleged in a lawsuit by a Missouri Department of Corrections employee.
Sexual harassment is alleged in a lawsuit by a Missouri Department of Corrections employee. kmyers@kcstar.com

A Missouri Department of Corrections employee from Oak Grove was sexually harassed at two facilities by male co-workers who regularly called her vile names, made comments about her body and asked her for sex, according to a lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Jennifer LaFleur began working for the Department of Corrections in 2011, at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in St. Joseph and was transferred to the Kansas City Re-Entry Center in the West Bottoms in late 2012.

She faced harassment at each facility, including being called the c-word on a weekly basis, according to the allegations.

“Her complaints were ignored and not investigated appropriately,” the lawsuit states.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said by email that the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The department established an Office of Professional Standards in July, and Pojmann added that “we also are working on improving current training and rolling out new training programs — particularly for supervisors.”

LaFleur’s case was filed earlier this month.

On Wednesday, another female employee lodged a formal complaint alleging race discrimination. That employee, who wished not to be named to protect her privacy, said she was addressed by co-workers with the c-word and a racial epithet, according to a discrimination complaint form.

The new allegations come about a year after an investigation published in The Pitch exposed widespread issues facing female employees in the Missouri prisons system. The problems included male employees using gender and racial epithets, bragging about their sexual prowess, commenting on female employees’ bodies, touching women in intimate areas and requesting sexual acts.

To address lawsuits that stemmed from the treatment, the department reportedly paid out settlements on the condition it would not admit guilt and the women would not discuss any details of the matter.

In 2016, the department was ordered by juries to pay more than $3 million in damages to victims.

Gary Gross, the executive director of the Missouri Corrections Officers Association, called the allegations in the LaFleur lawsuit “disturbing.”

He added her lawsuit is evidence that the department’s problems continue today, and he called for tougher repercussions against perpetrators and more training opportunities to address workplace harassment.

“It’s almost impossible to get the department to take any substantial action against the supervisors,” he said.

LaFleur’s suit alleges multiple male coworkers demeaned and objectified her, including one male co-worker who told her she looked “yummy” and remarked on her breasts. Another male coworker said he’d pay for a seven-day cruise if LaFleur would “have sex with (him) the whole time.”

Her attorney, David Lunceford, called on the department to hire more employees who can investigate discrimination claims to rein in the alleged abusive behavior.

“They have talked about having a zero tolerance policy, but they don’t enforce it,” he said. “They need to (say): ‘Look, if you act this way you’ll be fired.’ ”

LaFleur’s lawsuit seeks damages for emotional and economic distress that came as a result of the alleged treatment.

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg