The state Corrections Department has been ordered to pay $175,000 in damages to a parole and probation officer for “emotional distress” after she sued the agency and claimed she was mistreated by her supervisors.
Debbie Courtney filed a lawsuit against the state agency after she was disciplined by her superiors for conducting a home visit on a woman who was no longer on probation at the time.
Courtney's attorney claimed in court that his client's bosses retaliated against her when she was terminated in March 2011. The attorney also claimed in court filings that Courtney's supervisors, who were mostly black, were guilty of reverse discrimination.
A jury decided in mid-May that Courtney had been retaliated against as she fought to retain her job as a parole and probation officer.
Jurors did not find that Courtney was a victim of reverse discrimination, though.
In addition to the $175,000 awarded to Courtney by the jury for emotional distress, the woman also was awarded $1,000 in back pay, court records show.
Courtney also is seeking more than $50,000 to cover her legal expenses related to the lawsuit and her fight to retain her job.
Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state agency, said Courtney is still employed as a parole and probation officer.
Massie said “a settlement is in the process of being finalized in lieu of an appeal,” although he did not specify any terms.
Courtney's battle to keep her job started nearly three years ago when she received a letter from her supervisor, Robert Truitt, instructing her to make a “home visit” on a woman whose probation term had expired.
August 2010 incident
The letter from Truitt, a black man, was dated Aug. 16, 2010, Courtney's attorney wrote in the initial petition filed in April 2012. Attorneys for the corrections department, however, deny that such a letter was ever written.
According to court records, Courtney conducted the home visit at the woman's residence on Aug. 22, 2010, along with another parole and probation officer. Records show that the woman and her boyfriend at the time “at first resisted the visit, but later complied and cooperated with the officers.”
“At no time during the home visit did (the couple) inform the officers that she was no longer under DOC supervision,” Courtney's attorney wrote in the petition.
Weeks later, after a complaint by a “private citizen,” Courtney was told she was being investigated by the corrections department's Internal Affairs division in connection with the home visit a month earlier.
In March 2011, Courtney was fired for violating the corrections department's search and seizure policy. Truitt, who had allegedly ordered Courtney to conduct the home visit, was not disciplined at the time, records show.
An attorney for Courtney wrote in court filings that only three corrections department employees had been disciplined for violating the department's search and seizure policy before his client. He wrote that none of the three employees were terminated.
Attorneys for the state agency admitted the three employees were only issued letters of reprimand, but noted that “none of these violations involved home visits of offenders, which DOC lacked the authority to supervise.”
Courtney appealed her termination, and it was reduced to a 10-day suspension without pay by the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission.