ELLSWORTH, Maine — A former correctional officer has settled a federal complaint filed against Hancock County officials in which he alleged jail administrators discriminated against him after he was injured during a scuffle with an inmate.
Details of the out-of-court settlement were not available Tuesday because both sides agreed to keep them confidential.
Defense attorney John Wall, who represented both Hancock County government and the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, said Tuesday that the two sides had reached an agreement but that the exact terms of the settlement still needed to be finalized. Attorneys for the plaintiff, Brad Ewing, did not return calls seeking comment.
Ewing, a correctional officer at the Hancock County jail, reportedly suffered a back injury during an incident with an inmate in early March 2009. It was unclear Tuesday how Ewing was injured. He was placed on medical leave a day later and underwent back surgery in mid-April.
According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Ewing’s return to work was delayed due to a car accident in June 2009. The complaint further alleges that, during an October 2009 meeting with Ewing, the Hancock County commissioners were unwilling to discuss reasonable accommodations for his return to work, insisting instead that Ewing be prepared to “fulfill all [his] assigned work and not be restricted to light duty.”
But the defense’s filings with the court portray things somewhat differently, claiming Ewing was allowed to return to work a month later based on assurances made during that Oct. 6 meeting “that he was capable of performing all of the essential functions of a corrections officer.”
Soon after his return to work in early November 2009, Ewing was ordered to work a six-hour overtime shift following his 12-hour shift as well as to attend an unarmed self-defense training session. He expressed concerns about being able to work 18 hours straight and said he would likely only observe — not actively participate in — the training session.
Near the end of November, Sheriff William Clark suspended Ewing without pay due to his inability to live up to his alleged assurance in early October that he could return to work without restrictions. The suspension lasted roughly eight months until July 2010, according to the defense, when Ewing was able to return to work and perform his job responsibilities.
Three months before he returned to work, Ewing filed a discrimination complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission alleging he was suspended illegally. He later amended the complaint, charging that Clark retaliated against him to drive him out of a job. It is unclear how long Ewing stayed in the position at the jail.
The complaint alleges that Sheriff William Clark and jail administrators violated Maine’s laws by refusing to make “reasonable accommodations” for Ewing, who his attorneys said suffered a disability as defined under the Maine Human Rights Act. Those accommodations could include job restructuring, modified work schedules, reassignment or other adjustments.
They also claim the county violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Maine’s Whistleblowers Protection Act.
In responses filed with the court, however, the county and the sheriff’s department contend that Ewing never sought accommodations and, therefore, could not have been suspended as a result of requesting accommodations. The responses deny all allegations of discrimination.
The complaint filed by Ewing’s attorneys said their client was entitled to compensatory damages, punitive damages, back wages, reinstatement and attorney’s fees.