Employment Law: Damages Award to Ex-Prison Doptor Upheld in Suit Claiming Retaliation

Employment Law News

Physician reported abuse of inmates

By Curtis Lum Advertiser Staff Writer

HONOLULU – A federal appeals court yesterday upheld a 1999 lower court ruling that ordered three former top-level state prison officials to pay more than $653,000 for retaliating against a former prison doctor who publicly complained about abuse of inmates.

Dr. Terence Allen, former Halawa Correctional Facility physician, filed a lawsuit in 1997 against the officials, claiming that he was subjected to inappropriate internal investigations and passed over for promotions because of his complains. Allen was one of the first prison officials who acknowledged that some inmates were systematically abused.

Defendants named in the lawsuit were former Department of Public Safety director George Iranon, former deputy director Eric Penarosa and former Halawa prison warden Guy Hall. Allen said his First Amendment rights to free speech were violated by the three.

In July 1999, U.S. District Judge Alan Kay ruled that the defendants must pay Allen $110,000 in damages and $543,360 in attorney fees. Kay determined that the three administrators harassed and forced Allen to resign in retaliation for speaking out against the brutality and human-rights violations.

The state appealed Kay’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Yesterday, the three-member panel upheld the 1999 decision.

Allen resigned in 1997 and is practicing medicine in Washington. Attorney Michael Livingston, who along with Stanley Levin represented Allen, said he was “delighted” with yesterday’s ruling.

Livingston said he hopes the ruling will send a message to all administrators that retaliating against employees who speak out will not be tolerated.

“When (Allen) saw human-rights violations and brutality and was unable to get the administration to respond through the official channels, he took it to the court of public opinion and that was his First Amendment right, ” Livingston said. “Yet in response these top level administrators conspired to retaliate against him.”

email Michael Livingston
email Stan Levin

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