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Former Logan prison guard seeking back pay other expenses from Corrections

The State Journal-Register - 9/28/2018

Sept. 28--A former Department of Corrections officer is arguing in federal court over compensation she says she is owed after she said the department essentially forced her out of her job because of a disability.

A federal jury in July found in favor of Monica Lynn Barry of Springfield under a lawsuit she brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Barry, a former officer at the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, said the Department of Corrections denied multiple requests for a different assignment because she suffers from asthma and/or COPD that made breathing difficult when she was she was exposed to irritants like pepper spray. She said pepper spray is used in the prison.

Barry's lawsuit, filed in late 2014, said that in February 2013 she was granted episodic leave because she was "diagnosed as suffering with asthma rendering her unable to do her job, as it was structured, on occasion when her asthma flared up."

The lawsuit said that in May of that year Barry requested a transfer to the Lincoln Correctional Center because pepper spray wasn't used as often there. It was denied.

Barry then went on leave in July after submitting a doctor's statement supporting her request for an assignment that avoided exposure to pepper spray. The lawsuit said Barry made other requests for a "reasonable accommodation" to work in conditions that wouldn't aggravate her asthma but was denied. The lawsuit said she was also denied a request to carry a gas mask she could use if pepper spray was used near her.

"By refusing to provide any accommodation to plaintiff, (Correction) has constructively discharged her," the lawsuit said.

Barry filed suit under the ADA contending Corrections refused her request for accommodation of her asthma. She sought back wages and other expenses and also reinstatement at Corrections that accommodated her condition. In July, a jury found in Barry's favor and awarded her $150,000 for emotional pain and suffering damages.

However, attorneys for Barry and the state agreed the court would decide any additional compensation due Barry which is where the case stands now. Barry is seeking $523,442 for lost wages, benefits and other expenses. The amount is in addition to the $150,000 awarded by the jury.

Barry's lawyers said the amount includes back pay she would have received had she been able to stay on the job, as well as "front pay damages" which are paid in lieu of reinstatement to a job. Barry's lawyers said reinstatement is not appropriate because Corrections has not indicated it has a job for her or would rehire Barry. Court documents said "there is some hostility" between Barry and Corrections.

The amount sought by Barry also includes the cost of COBRA insurance coverage she would have had to buy after leaving the state, taxes she had to pay when she cashed in her state pension and $510 she had to pay for her uniform and badges.

Court filings show Corrections believes Barry's back pay claim should be reduced because the department doesn't think Barry did enough to find work after leaving Corrections. Barry's lawyers said she applied for 150 positions between 2015 and 2017 in a variety of fields and was not hired.

Corrections did not respond to a request for comment. The department normally does not comment on pending lawsuits.

Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.


(c)2018 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

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