State agrees to pay ex-prison guard $2.3M to settle case
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A state board approved Monday a settlement agreement to pay a former prison guard $2.3 million for discrimination and retaliation she says she suffered after filing a sexual harassment case against the state.
The money is in addition to $1.65 million the State Appeal Board agreed to pay Kristine Sink and her attorney last month to settle a sexual harassment case. If the payout approved Monday proceeds, the total the state would have paid in cases involving the guard would reach $3.95 million of which the majority would go to her lawyer.
Sink was a prison guard at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. Her problems with the state began in 2011 she said her supervisors allowed inmates and co-workers to harass her after she complained about inmate aggressive and violent behavior prompted by being allowed to watch graphic and sexually explicit movies.
She sued the state in 2012 and that case was on appeal when the state opted to settle last month. In that payment Sink was paid $650,000 and her attorney, Des Moines civil rights lawyer Paige Fiedler was paid $1 million in attorney fees.
Sink filed her second lawsuit in 2015 alleging prison officials retaliated against her after she returned to work from the original complaint. The Iowa Department of Corrections fired her in January 2016.
Last March a jury awarded her $2 million for lost earnings and emotional distress. The state appealed the verdict but is now recommending settling the case. The recommendation from the Iowa Attorney General’s office is to pay Sink $1.2 million and Fiedler $1.1 million.
Court documents in the second lawsuit indicate Fiedler sought payment at the rate of $475 per hour and the state sought to reduce it.
Judge Karen Romano said in court documents that Fiedler “is a pre-eminent attorney in the field of employment and civil rights law and commands a fee commensurate with her skills as an attorney.”
Fiedler said Sink is relieved that the cases have ended.
“She’s looking forward to a life that does not focus on the Iowa Department of Corrections and everything she’s been through,” she said.
Fiedler also is the attorney who negotiated a $2.35 million settlement with a woman who sued the state after she claimed she was sexually harassed by her boss, former Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press last month indicate Fiedler managed to get a settlement for her client Beth Ann Mahaffey after she threatened in the week before the Nov. 6 midterm election to dig into Gov. Kim Reynolds’ longtime association with Jamison including putting them under oath to discuss their relationship.
Reynolds was in a tight election battle with Democrat Fred Hubbell. She won the election and within weeks, her administration backed the settlement with Mahaffey and authority employee Ashley Jared, who also complained of harassment, for $1.8 million.
Iowa Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, a Democrat and the only Democrat on the Appeal Board, expressed frustration at the meeting that Solicitor General Jeff Thompson discussed the IFA settlements with Reynolds’ staff attorney.
He said Reynolds and her staff should have recused themselves from any involvement in the settlement because she had a conflict of interest.
Fitzgerald said he was surprised to read the AP story about settlement discussions between Reynolds’ attorney and Thompson’s office in the newspaper and that board members were unaware of those settlement discussions.
Thompson said negotiations began in September of 2018 and involved several people in state government.
“The allegation, the insinuation that I went and worked with the governor’s counsel or the governor to do something inappropriate is offensive to me,” he said. “The idea that I colluded with Gov. Reynolds is just false.”
Reynold spokesman Pat Garrett said her office agreed with the recommendations of the attorney general’s office “that it was in the best interest of the state of Iowa, of taxpayers, and more importantly the victims to settle this case as soon as possible.”