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White Missouri prison worker wins $1.4M lawsuit over racial discrimination complaint

The Missouri Department of Corrections converted the Kansas City Community Release Center, 651 Mulberry St. in the West Bottoms, into a minimum security prison now called the Kansas City Re-Entry Center.
The Missouri Department of Corrections converted the Kansas City Community Release Center, 651 Mulberry St. in the West Bottoms, into a minimum security prison now called the Kansas City Re-Entry Center. kmyers@kcstar.com

A white prison employee in Kansas City who filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections won more than $1.4 million this week.

Richard Dixson, a re-entry coordinator at the Kansas City Re-Entry Center, sued the state agency last year, saying he was subjected to racial discrimination and a hostile work environment. When he complained, managers retaliated, the lawsuit said.

A Jackson County jury on Monday ruled in favor of the Department of Corrections on Dixson’s claims of discrimination and a hostile work environment but found in Dixson’s favor on the retaliation claim.

The jury awarded Dixson $1,480,000 — $280,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages. A Jackson County Circuit Court judge will decide the fees owed to Dixson’s attorneys. By law, the state keeps half of the punitive damages.

In the lawsuit, Dixson said he was removed from a position within the facility, and unqualified employees were given his old job. He remains employed there in a different position.

He said he was denied an investigation into his complaint and was denied the use of flex-time to attend his children’s sports activities and for medical appointments after a car accident. But other employees were able to use flex-time, he said.

Dixson, of Independence, had been named the Department of Corrections Employee of the Month in January 2011. The director of the agency at the time wrote Dixson a letter congratulating him on helping to recapture a convicted sex offender who violated parole, and on collecting donated clothing from area dry cleaners for parolees making a new start.

The Re-Entry Center, located in the West Bottoms, was formerly the Kansas City Community Release Center before being converted into a minimum-security prison.

Dixson’s attorney, David Lunceford, said Thursday he could not comment on the case. Officials at the Department of Corrections and the office of the Missouri attorney general, which defended the case, did not return calls seeking comment.

The Department of Corrections has come under increasing scrutiny following a series of harassment and discrimination lawsuits. Last year, two lawsuits resulted in juries ordering the state to pay more than $3 million in damages to victims.

Last month, another employee at the Re-Entry Center sued the Department of Corrections, saying that she was sexually harassed by male co-workers and that the agency ignored her complaints. That lawsuit is still working through the courts.

Lawsuits of this type will play out differently under new legislation signed earlier this year by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

Among the changes in the law — which applies to lawsuits filed after August of this year — damages will be capped at $500,000 for employers with more than 500 employees.

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