Jury awards ex-Missouri corrections worker $11 million in harassment, retaliation case

Leesa L. Wiseman's attorney said the verdict recognized the years of discrimination, mistreatment and retaliation that his client endured


By Glenn E. Rice
The Kansas City Star

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - A Jackson County jury has awarded an $11 million verdict to a former Missouri Department of Corrections deputy warden who claimed she was wrongfully terminated and subjected to retaliation and repeated harassment.

Leesa L. Wiseman had worked a variety of jobs within the corrections department before she was fired in March 2019. Wiseman was hired in 1989 as a parole officer trainee and was eventually promoted to serve as a deputy warden at the Kansas City Re-entry Center in the West Bottoms.

In her civil lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, Wiseman claimed that several years prior to her leaving the state agency, she was continuously targeted for unfair treatment and was unjustifiably demoted.

The Missouri Attorney General’s office represented the corrections department in the civil trial held from July 12 through July 21 at the courthouse in Independence.

Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, declined to comment Wednesday.

Chris R. Playter, an attorney who represented Wiseman, said the verdict recognized the years of discrimination, mistreatment and retaliation that his client endured.

“For her I think it was just having somebody hear her voice,” Playter told The Star, after years of “being told that she was a bad employee, even though there’s no documented evidence of anything like this.”

“You’re questioned and you worry, and you’re humiliated. And there is just the emotional relief of hearing the verdict,” he said.

Wiseman sued the agency alleging racial, gender and disability discrimination. She also made claims of a hostile and offensive work environment. Wiseman said she was yelled at and was eventually placed on a work improvement plan that she felt was unjustified, the lawsuit claimed.

During her time with the agency, Wiseman said she received successful performance evaluations, which led to pay raises and promotions. However, a supervisor yelled at Wiseman and treated her unfairly.

Wiseman complained when she noticed her supervisor labeling and color-coordinating employee files based on their gender.

That same supervisor also asked Wiseman to create a plan to prevent employees from using disability leave. Wiseman told her supervisor that was illegal, according to the lawsuit.

Wiseman also served on an executive hiring board with that supervisor. During that time, the supervisor regularly discussed applicants’ race, color, national origin and sexual orientation. Wiseman alerted her supervisors that such discussion was inappropriate and illegal.

The civil petition claimed that Wiseman faced retaliation after she was subpoenaed and later provided favorable testimony in a civil lawsuit filed by another employee.

Wiseman was demoted and later passed over for promotions. Her job duties were later changed to include performing secretarial work and transporting files to various corrections department offices in the western portion of Missouri that were more than an hour’s drive from her home, the lawsuit alleged.

In June 2018, a complaint was filed against Wiseman that claimed she acted inappropriately at a staff meeting where she threw files on the ground and belittled her subordinates. Those allegations were conjured up, according to the lawsuit, and used to retaliate against her. The claims were also used to terminate Wiseman, the lawsuit stated.

The jury awarded Wiseman $9.25 million in punitive damages and $1.8 million in compensatory damages. The judge will decide the fees owed to Wiseman’s attorneys.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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