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Judge says Missouri Department of Corrections must pay $2 million in sexual harassment case

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Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem confirmed a November jury award for “a hostile work environment” to a Missouri Department of Corrections prison nurse.

A prison nurse said she felt trapped between two corrections officers as one described plans to kidnap, drug and rape her. Her attorney said there were “daily ‘rape jokes’ from other corrections officers and retaliation by the warden and other jail personnel.”

The Missouri Department of Corrections must pay $2 million in punitive damages in a sexual harassment case brought by a prison nurse who felt trapped between two corrections officers as one described plans to kidnap, drug and rape her.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem on Tuesday confirmed a November jury award for “a hostile work environment” to Kathleen Newman, who sued the department, three corrections officers, prison health contractor Corizon LLC and two of its employees.

Just before the trial started Nov. 7, Newman “resolved” the portion of her lawsuit alleging wrongdoing by Corizon and its employees, her attorney, Andy Hirth of Columbia, wrote in an email to The Missouri Independent.

“Ms. Newman cannot discuss it any further,” Hirth wrote.

The trial lasted nine days and the jury awarded Newman $150,000 in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages from the department. The allegations seeking to make the three corrections officers liable were also dismissed.

The Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for comment on a possible appeal.

Newman began working for Corizon in 2014, Hirth wrote. The lawsuit focused on a Jan. 20, 2017, incident in the prison infirmary of the Jefferson City Correctional Center, where Newman was working an overnight shift.

Corrections officer Michael Redmon, who had unsuccessfully sought dates with Newman, was there with Sgt. James McKee and started talking about working on a “capture room” at his house. He described it as the room where he would hold Newman after kidnapping her, then use drugs to subdue and rape her.

In the court filing that initiated the case in 2017, Newman said Redmon told her “he knew where she lived and how easy it is to find out where someone lives.”

Newman had refused Redmon’s previous requests for a relationship outside of work.

The filing accused Sgt. James McKee of blocking the exit from the infirmary, laughing and encouraging Redmon.

She was subjected to further harassment. There were “daily ‘rape jokes’ from other corrections officers and retaliation by the warden and other jail personnel,” Hirth wrote in a news release about the verdict.

Newman resigned from her job in April 2017.

“Redmon was allowed to return to work after a perfunctory investigation and was only fired months after Newman resigned,” Hirth noted in the release.

The verdict includes post-judgment interest of 9.4% until paid.

This story was originally published on the Missouri Independent.

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature for the Missouri Independent.
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