Civil case proceeds against prison medical provider accused of discrimination

By Juliette Laaka | Feb 09, 2015

Portland — Summonses were served Feb. 4 to the Maine State Prison's medical services provider and two employees accused of taunting and retaliating against a nurse who said she was treated poorly by colleagues because of her race.

Shana E. Cannell, now living in St. Louis, filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court in October against Corizon LLC, listed as CMS in the suit, which is the prison's medical services provider, and three former associates she says participated in, and allowed, the discrimination. Cannell is seeking back pay and benefits, punitive and compensatory damages, as well as attorney's fees.

Named as defendants in the case are Director of Nursing Brian Castonguay, Nurse Larry Brayhall and Health Services Administrator Tammy Hatch.

Summonses were served to CMS, Castonguay, and Hatch. The defendants have 21 days to respond to the complaint against them or judgment will be issued in favor of Cannell, according to the summonses.

Cannell, a licensed practical nurse, began working at the prison in February 2010. During the eight months she worked there, the plaintiff says she was subjected to a hostile work environment and had to endure crude comments by colleagues because she is black.

Those comments included asking her what the Confederate flag meant to her, calling her the "N" word, and telling her "Your people are used to cleaning up messes" after she was ordered to clean up a biohazard at the clinic, says the suit.

Cannell says she was also not protected when an inmate made threats to her, and that other nurses were allowed paid time off when Cannell requested the benefit for a similar circumstance, but was denied.

When Cannell made written and verbal complaints about the discrimination to her supervisors, her concerns were ignored, according to the suit. She was told by Hatch the complaints were being investigated, but that Cannell "would have to deal with it," and that she set people up to say such things, the suit says.

In July 2010, Cannell says, she sustained head and neck trauma from a boating accident, and spoke with her manager about lying down at times to stretch her back and relieve the pain. She was told she would be able to stretch or lie down if she needed to, says the suit.

Cannell was fired in October 2010, after she was accused of sleeping on the job, although she explained she was not sleeping, but stretching her back, which she had spoken with her manager about.

Castonguay showed her photos of her with her head on a desk and asked if she was sleeping. Cannell said she was not sleeping, that she was stretching, and a security guard also verified Cannell had not been sleeping. Castonguay later told Cannell he reviewed a video tape of the incident, and that he knew she was not sleeping, but that it was still considered "a lack of situational awareness," according to the suit.

A letter from CMS said she was fired for sleeping while at work, and while an inmate was in the clinic. In a letter to the Department of Labor, CMS said Cannell was fired for violating the employer's narcotic control and professionalism policy.

Cannell claims the reason for her termination is erroneous and she has requested a jury trial. She is represented by Augusta attorney David G. Webbert.

A spokesperson for Corizon LLC, Susan Morgenstern, said in an email, "Corizon Health has strict policies prohibiting any kind of discrimination or harassment, and we require respectful treatment for all employees. While we cannot comment on pending litigation, it's important to note that we have zero tolerance for violation of those policies."

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@villagesoup.com.

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