Lawsuit argues Ionia prison worker’s harassment claims mishandled

Local News

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — A corrections officer who says she was sexually harassed by a sergeant at the Michigan Reformatory state prison in Ionia is suing, arguing her complaints were handled improperly.

The lawsuit filed in federal court on Feb. 26 names Sgt. Mario Cunningham; Kathy Warner, who headed up the Office of Executive Affairs for the Michigan Department of Corrections; and Michigan Reformatory Warden Greg Skipper as defendants.

The plaintiff, a 42-year-old Ingham County woman whose name News 8 is not using because she says she was a victim of sexual harassment, says she went out with Cunningham a couple of times in early 2019 but then found out he was married and didn’t want to see him anymore. Regardless, she claims in the suit, he continued to call and text her and go out of his way to see her at work even after she made it clear she was not interested.

She filed a harassment complaint in September 2019. The suit says that by March 2020, even though the internal affairs unit had substantiated her report, “the outcome of the investigation as changed and (the plaintiff’s) claims were declared ‘unfounded'” by Warner. Cunningham wasn’t disciplined.

The plaintiff said Cunningham continued to bother her and that it started to affect her work. She filed another complaint against him in July 2020. By September, some of the inmates the plaintiff was tasked with guarding had found out about the complaint and started taunting her about it, the suit alleges.

She started to feel afraid, she said, and took weeks of stress leave in October. The suit alleges that when the plaintiff called the warden to tell him about her concerns, he told her to contact her union.

Finally, in January of this year, she requested a transfer to work in a different facility.

The suit argues her 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection were violated, as were the protections afforded her by Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. It asks that the court award the plaintiff damages, interest and attorney fees.

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