$600K awarded to deputy warden in latest of lawsuits involving Kansas City prison

Bryant Holmes won compensatory damages for his claim of a hostile work environment at the Kansas City Reentry Center

By David Hudnall
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Jackson County jury has delivered a $600,000 verdict against the state of Missouri after a deputy warden claimed he faced retaliation after reporting discrimination at a minimum-security prison near downtown Kansas City.

Bryant Holmes is a 53-year-old Black man who worked for more than two decades at the Missouri Department of Corrections. He alleged in a 2018 lawsuit that Lily Angelo, a white woman who was his supervisor at the Kansas City Reentry Center in the West Bottoms, sexually harassed him at work. Holmes also alleged that Angelo discriminated against disabled employees and others who tried to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The jury found in the state’s favor on three of Holmes’ claims: race discrimination, sex discrimination and retaliation. But it awarded Holmes $600,000 in compensatory damages for his claim of a hostile work environment.

“We’re grateful to the jury for providing an award that validated his experience in the face of wrongdoing by the Department of Corrections,” said Chris Playter, one of the attorneys who represented Holmes.

Playter added that they will submit a request for attorneys’ fees later this week, which if approved could significantly increase the state’s tab on the case. (Because Holmes’ allegations occurred in 2015 and 2016, his case is not subject to a 2017 state law that caps the amount of damages a plaintiff can obtain against an employer for discrimination claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act. That cap is $500,000 for employers with more than 500 employees, such as the state.).

Madeline Sieren, press secretary for the the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, declined to comment on the verdict or whether the state would appeal. The state was represented in the lawsuit by attorneys Abbie Rothermich and Nicolas Taulbee.

Among other allegations, Holmes claimed that Angelo removed from a promotions list the name of an employee who had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. Holmes also claimed that, after an employee with a breathing disorder became a witness in a different discrimination lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections, Angelo turned up the heat in the room where that employee worked and refused to allow them to use a fan.

When Holmes objected to these and other actions by Angelo, he was transferred to a different corrections facility in St. Joseph, approximately 75 miles from his home in Belton, and not compensated for his extra travel time or mileage. He was also demoted from deputy warden to assistant warden.

In recent years, several lawsuits have loomed over the Kansas City Reentry Center, which is now called the Transition Center of Kansas City:

  • Another deputy warden, Leesa Wiseman, was awarded $11 million last year in a jury trial over retaliation and a hostile work environment at the center.
  • In 2020, Missouri was ordered to pay $2 million to Richard Dixson, an employee at the facility, over racial discrimination and hostile work environment claims.
  • The state paid out just over $1 million in 2021 after a lawsuit involving corrections officer Shelley Gray was upheld on appeal. Gray attended a 2017 meeting at the facility in which Angelo directed employees “to figure out how to stop employees from using Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave,” according to court records.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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