Prison doctor sues state alleging LGBTQ discrimination
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A psychologist at a California prison facility has alleged she was twice locked in a room with a dangerous inmate in retaliation for reporting mistreatment of LGBTQ inmates.
Lori Jespersen sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Monday for violations of civil rights and whistleblower protection laws, as well as the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA. Jespersen is an employee of the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, which provides health care for incarcerated men. Her lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern Division of California, also names several corrections employees as defendants.
Jespersen’s lawsuit alleges she repeatedly reported instances of discrimination against gay and transgender inmates beginning in 2014, only to have them ignored or to face retaliation. Jespersen, who is a lesbian, alleges in the lawsuit that a fellow corrections officer harassed her and suggested inmates attack her.
“It is time for CDCR to be held accountable and take intentional, meaningful steps to address their abusive and hostile culture. Dr. Jespersen’s lawsuit seeks not only to vindicate her rights, but the rights of some of the most vulnerable populations caught up in the prison industrial complex,” Felicia Medina, Jespersen’s attorney, said in a statement.
The corrections department has not yet been served with the lawsuit, and it does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in an email.
In the most egregious allegation, the lawsuit says a corrections officer locked Jespersen in a unit with a prisoner serving multiple life sentences for rape, without supervision or access to an alarm. The lawsuit alleges it happened twice, in December 2015 and March 2016.
The lawsuit alleges workers at the California Medical Facility exposed an inmate as transgender on social media and referred to the inmate as “that thing.” In another instance, the lawsuit alleges a worker allowed a gay inmate to be attacked after Jespersen submitted a report under the Prison Rape Elimination Act outlining an assault against that inmate. A fellow worker failed to lock a shower door, allowing the inmate to be attacked again, the lawsuit says.
In addition to being locked in a room with a dangerous inmate, Jespersen says she was demoted to an administrative position in retaliation for reporting mistreatment. She took a medical leave in early 2016, and she was given a desk job with mostly administrative tasks when she returned, the lawsuit says.
Jespersen is seeking damages and to be restored to her former position as a clinical psychologist at the facility. She also wants a permanent injunction against the department from engaging in unlawful behavior, and an order that the department implement programs to remedy the hostile work environment.