California

Coworker threatened black employee at California youth prison with noose, lawsuit claims

Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City in 2012. Federal officials are cracking down on the Aryan Brotherhood in California prisons. Authorities to announce results of an investigation that found gang members ordering murders, smuggling cellphones, distributing drugs.
Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City in 2012. Federal officials are cracking down on the Aryan Brotherhood in California prisons. Authorities to announce results of an investigation that found gang members ordering murders, smuggling cellphones, distributing drugs. Los Angeles Times file

A maintenance worker at a youth prison outside Los Angeles threatened a black coworker with a noose and kept his job while the black employee faced retaliation and had to go on leave, according to a newly filed lawsuit.

The maintenance worker threw a noose over a light fixture at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility in May 2017 and told Darren Gales, “someone or something needs to be hanged today,” according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in the Central District of California U.S. District Court.

Gales, 57, of Oxnard, was the sole black employee in the prison’s procurement department, according to the suit. After filing a discrimination complaint and telling his manager what happened, he overheard the maintenance worker having a conversation with another manager in which the manager pledged to support the maintenance worker, according to Gales’ legal complaint.

Gales went on a doctor-ordered medical leave related to stress and anxiety after hearing that conversation, according to the suit. His doctor extended the leave until January 2, 2018, when he returned to work, according to the suit.

When he got back, his boss told him his job had been revised to “desk responsibilities.” He was told he must notify his boss every time he left the desk. He received notices that his benefits had been reduced and a disciplinary notice related to an incident from before he went on leave — well after a 30-day window to send such a notice had passed, according to the suit.

“It appears that discipline was issued in retaliation for his report of racial discrimination,” said Gales’ attorney, Warren Astbury, of New York-based law firm Morgan & Morgan.

A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman said the department hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit.

After a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder related to the alleged retaliation, Gales left work again on February 7, 2018 and has not been able to return, according to the suit. He is seeking compensation for lost wages and benefits and damages for emotional pain and suffering, according to the suit.

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