A nurse who worked for a health care provider that contracted with the Maine State Prison in Warren to provide services to inmates has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against her former employer.

Shana Cannell, who is black, was fired from her job as a nurse in 2010 after filing a complaint about ongoing racial harassment at the prison. She filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Bangor on Tuesday seeking back pay, damages and reinstatement to her position.

The lawsuit names Corizon LLC, a company that provides health care services to correctional facilities throughout the country; Brian Castonguay, director of nursing at Maine State Prison in 2010; Tammy Hatch, the health care administrator hired by Corizon at the prison; and Larry Brayhall, a nurse who worked with Cannell, all of whom worked for Corizon.

“While working as (a licensed practical nurse) at the Maine State Prison, Cannell was subjected to a hostile and abusive work environment because she is black. For example, defendant Larry Brayhall repeatedly made racist comments to her, including use of the ‘N’ word,” Cannell said in the nine-page complaint filed on her behalf by her attorney.

Cannell’s attorney, David Webbert, said he expects that the state Department of Corrections and its employees will be added to the lawsuit in the future as the case progresses, but that Cannell’s claims against the state must first be handled by the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Webbert said that Cannell had filed a complaint against the state with the Maine Human Rights Commission on her own before she had a lawyer, but her complaint was apparently lost.

Since Webbert began acting on Cannell’s behalf, the Maine Human Rights Commission has begun investigating a new complaint he filed for her. “The claim (in federal court) is likely to be amended, and we’ll add the state of Maine at that point,” Webbert said.

Webbert, who is president of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association, said that about half of the lawsuits against the state of Maine are against the Department of Corrections. Attitudes within state’s correctional facilities, he said, are “very backward, very old boy.”

“I’ve handled a lot of cases against the state, and I’d say the Department of Corrections is the worst,” Webbert said.

Webbert said he had to file the lawsuit against Corizon and its employees now because under federal law, there is only a four-year statute of limitations against the private company. The statute of limitations to sue the state is six years.

Susan Morgenstern, a spokeswoman for Corizon, declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically but issued a statement about the company’s policy on discrimination.

“Corizon Health has strict policies prohibiting any kind of discrimination or harassment, and we require respectful treatment for all employees,” the statement said. “While we cannot comment on pending litigation, it’s important to note that we have zero tolerance for violation of those policies.”

Cannell alleges in the suit that several months after she began working at the prison in 2010, staff members there suspected that she had begun dating a white male corrections officer, and they began a daily barrage of derogatory comments.

The comments included numerous racial epithets, references to her skin color and claims about what “your people” do, among other comments, the complaint says.

Cannell claims that she filed “numerous complaints – in writing and in person” to Castonguay, her direct supervisor, and to Hatch, but that her complaints were ignored. She said Hatch told her in a meeting in September 2010 that “you’re going to have to deal with it. You set people up to say these things.”

Cannell was fired on Oct. 14, 2010, after what she called a “false charge of sleeping on the job even though her employer knew that this allegation was false.”

Cannell, who now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, has demanded a jury trial and for the court to order Corizon to train its managers on their legal obligation regarding how to respond to workplace complaints of race discrimination and harassment.


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