Government

Former prison guard wins $2M over workplace retaliation

She had complained about inmates being allowed to watch graphic movies

Kristine Sink, shown in her Iowa State Penitentiary uniform in this undated photo, won a $2 million jury award March 7, 2018, in a lawsuit alleging retaliation by the prison administration after she lost a lawsuit in 2014. (submitted photo)
Kristine Sink, shown in her Iowa State Penitentiary uniform in this undated photo, won a $2 million jury award March 7, 2018, in a lawsuit alleging retaliation by the prison administration after she lost a lawsuit in 2014. (submitted photo)

A former correctional officer at the Iowa State Penitentiary who asserted that state prison officials retaliated against her for complaining about graphic movies inmates were allowed to watch won a $2 million jury award this week.

A Polk County jury decided Wednesday the Iowa Department of Corrections had retaliated against Kristine Sink by placing her on leave, investigating her and accusing her of stealing after she lost an earlier civil rights lawsuit.

The jury said the state failed to provide reasonable accommodations at the Fort Madison facility for Sink, who asked to have minimal contact with inmates because of anxiety and stress brought on by inmates verbally harassing her and masturbating in front of her.

Sink, who worked for the state penitentiary from 2002 through 2016, first sued the state in 2012. She complained about how the prison for years had allowed inmates to watch violent or sexually graphic movies.

She said the movies caused inmates to threaten her and masturbate toward her, while supervisors made light of her complaints.

The penitentiary barred movies with sexually graphic content in 2011, according to a 2015 Des Moines Register article. And the prison shifted her to a position screening visitors, instead of interacting with inmates — a change sought by Sink.

But after Sink lost the initial lawsuit in 2014, she was assigned to supervise 73 inmates alone, according to a new lawsuit she filed in 2015.

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She then was put on leave, pending an investigation, and officials accused her of accepting stolen property because she had asked another guard to make a video of an inmate masturbating toward her, the suit stated.

Throughout 2015, Sink tried to get prison officials to change her work environment because of her stress and anxiety around inmates, but was told administrators would not provide accommodations or approve extension of medical leave, the lawsuit stated.

Sink was fired Jan. 10, 2016.

The jury this week said Sink had not proved her claims of disability discrimination. The $2 million award includes $175,000 for lost past earnings, $575,000 for past emotional distress and $1.25 million for lost future earnings.

“The department is reviewing the outcome of the court’s decision. We will be evaluating the ruling with legal counsel, and have no further comment at this time,” Cord Overton, a Department of Corrections spokesman, said in a statement to the Register.

Because this is a civil rights case, state law allows for the losing party to pay legal costs, according to Emily McCarty at Fiedler & Timmer, in Johnston.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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