Against a backdrop of numerous discrimination complaints by employees against the Missouri Department of Corrections, a former corrections officer has filed a lawsuit alleging he faced race and disability discrimination on the job.
John Dominguez, who worked at the Women’s Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, filed a lawsuit in December claiming he faced a different standard than co-workers because he is Latino and has disabilities, including lower back disk degenerative disease and adult attention deficit disorder.
His co-workers, who he alleges committed violations such as mixing dog food into an inmate’s meal and having sex while on duty, were not punished as harshly as he was, the lawsuit says.
Dominguez said the mistreatment began after he took unpaid leave to address his health. He was placed on a performance improvement plan after being told he was not meeting the expectations of an officer because of his “use of leave without pay.”
He was told by a supervisor to justify his use of unpaid leave, a request that he alleges is against department policy. The supervisor told him, “I don’t care about Department policy. This is how we do it here,” according to the lawsuit.
Dominguez said that officials made false complaints against him, threatened him to “be careful when there is a target on your back” and ignored one of his complaints of discrimination.
Days before he filed his lawsuit, Dominguez was terminated.
Karen Pojmann, a spokeswoman with the Missouri Department of Corrections, said she could not comment because the case is pending.
Dominguez alleges he was further retaliated against for reporting misconduct by his co-workers.
The violations committed, according to the lawsuit, include:
▪ A corrections officer mixed dog food into an inmate’s meal. The incident was mentioned in a federal lawsuit filed in 2016 by the inmate in which she alleged the officer had a history of treating inmates in a “harassing and dehumanizing manner.” Dominguez said in his suit that the officer received a one-day suspension after the incident.
▪ Another officer had “sexual relations” with fellow officers while on duty and pleaded guilty to assault charges. But the officer was not reprimanded until later, when he sent nude photos to a fellow officer via his work email. The officer was initially terminated, but then the decision was reversed and he was only demoted.
▪ A supervisor retained his position for 10 years after pleading guilty to a domestic assault charge.
▪ A corrections officer received a one-day suspension for physically and verbally abusing an offender.
Nimrod Chapel, who is representing Dominguez, said a recently enacted law in Missouri eroded protections for individuals facing discrimination, making it more difficult to win lawsuits such as Dominguez’s.
Dominguez’s allegations come on the heels of dozens of lawsuits filed against the Department of Corrections in past years.
In December, two complaints — one for race discrimination and another for sexual harassment — were filed.
That same month, a white prison worker won a $1.4 million racial discrimination lawsuit.
Dominguez said the “severity and heinous nature” of the details in some of the lawsuits against the Department of Corrections amazed him.
“I never thought it would happen to me,” he added.
Dominguez seeks damages and punitive damages in his lawsuit.