Discrimination lawsuit against Missouri Department of Corrections takes unusual turn

The disability discrimination lawsuit of Lori Lynn Walker, a former state prison guard who worked in Kansas City, has taken an unexpected turn.

Walker’s lawsuit against Missouri Department of Corrections officials, who face dozens of discrimination lawsuits and are being investigated by a legislative subcommittee, was set for trial Monday. It would have been the first trial since The Pitch published a story detailing the discrimination lawsuits and the millions of dollars that the department has already paid for jury awards and settlements over several years.

Walker’s case, filed in 2015, was highlighted in the Pitch story: Walker had suffered a seizure and seen her doctor, who gave her permission to return to work. But Warden Lilly Angelo ordered her to see another doctor, who examined her for one hour and then reported his findings to Angelo. It’s unclear what the report said, but Walker was then fired for being “absent without permission,” according to her court file.

Last Thursday evening, Walker and her attorneys negotiated a settlement agreement with Missouri Assistant Attorney General Michael Quinlan. The deal called for the state to pay Walker $400,000 and to rehire her at the prison, according to a motion filed late Friday by one of her attorneys, Gene P. Graham Jr.

That effectively canceled the trial. But it didn’t end the drama.

On Friday morning, Quinlan, who is chief counsel of the attorney general’s litigation division, called Graham and said that the department had decided it would not rehire Walker, according to Graham’s motion. Even so, Quinlan reassured Graham, according to the motion, “that he would confirm that the offer accepted by (Walker) was for the payment of $400,000 in cash and reinstatement of (Walker) to her position” with the department.

The motion also said the state had valued the reinstatement of Walker’s job at $400,000 to $500,000, making the settlement worth about $900,000.

Graham warned Quinlan that if the state did not make good on the settlement agreement, he would file an enforcement action.

By 3 p.m. Friday, Walker and her attorneys and the state’s attorneys were still in a stalemate.

Graham then filed a motion asking the judge to enforce the settlement agreement he had made with Quinlan. Graham specifically asked Jackson County Circuit Judge Joel P. Fahnestock to either enforce the settlement “in accordance with the terms agreed upon by the Parties,” or pay Walker $900,000 in cash.

The motion does not explain why the state did not want to rehire Walker.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley would not comment for this story. Attorneys for Walker did not return phone calls.

In a hastily called hearing early Monday morning, Judge Fahnestock scheduled an evidentiary hearing for 1:30 p.m. Friday, April 7, to allow both sides to make arguments.

The state has some motivation to mollify Walker. With its list of witnesses, the trial would have provided a forum for some of the corrections department’s dirtiest laundry. The trial might have led to testimony from:

  • George Lombardi, former head of the corrections department, who suddenly announced he was resigning a month after the Pitch story was published.

  • David Dormire, the department’s former No. 2 man, who suddenly resigned after the Pitch published a second story detailing his role in the DOC.

  • Cynthia Prudden, who is one of the top department administrators, and whose husband, Doug Prudden, is warden of the Tipton Correctional Center. That prison, along with the Kansas City prison, was the focus of a lawsuit brought by Debra Hesse, who had worked at both facilities. A jury last year awarded Hesse almost $2 million.

  • Lilly Angelo, former warden of the Kansas City prison, who was transferred to Probation & Parole last month.

  • Ann Malloy, a Kansas City lawyer who wrote a scathing report about discrimination at the Kansas City prison. The state fought for six months to keep the report under wraps, but it eventually was leaked to a Pitch reporter.

In addition, several current and former employees who have filed lawsuits were expected to testify.

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