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Four corrections workers sue state for racial discrimination


Four corrections workers sue state for racial discrimination

Apr 05, 2024 | 11:47 am ET
By Clark Kauffman
Four corrections workers sue state for racial discrimination
(Photo by Getty Images)

Four Iowa Department of Corrections workers are suing the state for alleged discrimination based on race and color.

Cameron Gowdy, Kennesha Woods, Shantel Lewis and Zeare Renfro are suing the department, as well as several top administrators, alleging violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

Gowdy, a 53-year-old Black woman, has worked for the DOC since 2004 as a residential manager and currently works at the Fresh Start Women’s Center in Des Mones. She alleges that over the past 20 years she has been continuously subjected to harassment by DOC personnel and claims that when DOC Director Jerry Evans hired her he said she’d have to contend with what the lawsuit calls “10% haters.” She alleges the department consistently excludes her from management meetings in which issues involving her team are addressed and alleges that other people in her same position have received “multiple employment perks” never offered her.  She also claims the department has failed to provide her with the required training to ensure her best job performance.

Woods, a 35-year-old Black woman, alleges that since she began working for the DOC as a residential officer in 2013 she has been subjected to almost daily harassment and racially motivated behavior. She claims DOC officials have repeatedly made efforts to “degrade and ostracize” her for being an assertive Black woman, and claims one DOC administrator recommended she not be promoted because she was “a radical person” who did not get along with others.

Part of Woods’ complaint is based on an allegation that a top administrator entered her office on three occasions despite Woods having a “Do Not Disturb” sign on her office door, and that this same administrator referred to her by her first name rather than using her job title or doctorate title. She states she also filed a formal grievance after a DOC administrator asked her for contact information for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Lewis, a 54-year-old Black woman, alleges she has faced harassment since she began working for the DOC as a residential officer in 2018. One administrator stepped into her personal space and yelled in her face, she alleges, and another called her “bossy, loud and a low performer.”

Renfro, a 29-year-old Black woman, began working for the DOC in 2021 as a residential officer. She alleges she was once verbally attacked by a co-worker and that she feared for her life afterward. After she received a promotion, she says, nearly everyone congratulated her except for one administrator who didn’t care for her.

The lawsuit, filed in Polk County District Court, seeks unspecified damages for violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act based on race and color, and for failure to provide job training.

In addition to the DOC, the named defendants in the case are DOC Director Jerry Evans, Assistant Director Angela Karaidos, Personnel Specialist Karen Chapman, Probation Parole Supervisor Robin Merk, Residential Supervisor Norman Granger, Supervisor Jim Michels and Residential Manager Lance Wignall.

The DOC has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.