WARREN, Maine — A former nurse at the Maine State Prison has filed a federal lawsuit against the private company that provides health care to Maine corrections facilities, claiming she was subjected to frequent racial taunts and that her employer retaliated by firing her when she complained.
Attorney David Webbert of Augusta filed the civil rights lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland on behalf of Shana E. Cannell, who worked as a licensed practical nurse at the prison from February through October 2010. The lawsuit names Corizon LLC and three of its employees — Brian Castonguay, Larry Brayhall and Tammy Hatch.
Webbert said that the prison was aware of the actions of Corizon although the state is not named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit states that some prison staffers also made derogatory comments toward Cannell, who is black.
Cannell, who now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, claims in the lawsuit that she was subjected to racial slurs. She said when she complained to her supervisors she was given less favorable assignments and ultimately fired.
The attorney said that Cannell did not have an attorney immediately after she was fired. She filed a human rights complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission but that case remains in the investigative stage, he said. Information about the case from the commission was not immediately available.
In her lawsuit, Cannell lists the derogatory comments made by co-workers. In addition to the slurs, she said that other employees would say that “cleaning up messes is what your people do,” “of course your people like chocolate, a chocolate for a chocolate,” and “I can be the fried chicken and you can be the watermelon.” One of the people accused of making the comments was fellow nurse Brayhall.
The woman said she went both to Castonguay, who was the director of nursing, and Hatch, who was the administrator.
“Defendants orchestrated and condoned a continuing campaign of harassment against Cannell because of her race and in retaliation for her opposition to the unlawful race discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” the lawsuit states.
A spokesman for the company issued a statement Wednesday to the lawsuit.
“Corizon Health has strict policies prohibiting any kind of discrimination or harassment, and we require respectful treatment for all employees. While we cannot comment on pending litigation, it’s important to note that we have zero tolerance for violation of those policies,” said company spokesperson Susan Morgenstern.
Cannell claims in the lawsuit that after she made her complaints there was an incident in which she was not protected when an inmate made serious and repeated threats against her
personal safety, and that her car was ransacked while she was at work.
She said she was fired after she had put her head down on her desk and someone snapped a photograph and accused her of sleeping on the job, a claim she denied and said other people could verify her claim.