A lawsuit accuses the North Carolina Department of Public Safety of systematically keeping prison guards from receiving raises.
Filed Monday, the allegations focus specifically on the DPS and North Carolina’s prison system.
The News Observer claims that the ‘crux of the lawsuit is a claim that DPS officials ordered prison supervisors to issue unnecessary or even made-up written warnings to correctional officers and other prison workers, in an effort to stop them from getting raises.’
In addition to unjustly punishing prison employees, attorneys say that officials used ‘faulty disciplinary methods’ to keep employees at undesirable facilities. Requests to transfer jails were often met with falsified condemnations of performance, “to in effect indenture” employees to the state’s worst prisons.
“At the end of the day, this was an effort to save money ,” said Michael Byrne, a Raleigh attorney representing the corrections officers.
North Carolina prison system spokesman Jerry Higgins said the Department of Public Safety supports its employee but can’t comment on pending litigation.
“An ongoing priority of the Department of Public Safety has been and continues to be ensuring that our correctional officers and other employees are compensated appropriately for the difficult job they perform every day to keep North Carolinians safe,” said Higgins.
So far, the suit’s being led by just two employees, Carla Elkins and Michael Jackson. Leaders from the Police Benevolent Association, which is assisting with the lawsuit, say many other employees should consider lending their names to the case.
Speaking at a PBA conference, Elkins says she received a job performance warning once in 2015—and was written up for the same infraction over a year later. The timing coincided with a legislature-mandated round of raises that was supposed to take effect shortly thereafter.
“It seems incredibly unfair,” said Elkins. “You can’t dispute it. You can’t fight it.”
According to Elkins, ill will toward department officials over sham warnings is widespread.
“There moral is just in the trash,” claims Elkins. “No one trusts the department.”
The News Observer quotes state Rep. Bob Steinberg (R) as saying litigation could prompt further claims. Publicly joining the suit could, to a certain degree, protect employees from workplace retaliation.
“That has been the primary factor for why people have not come forward—concern over retribution,” said Steinburg in a Monday press conference.
North Carolina state legislators are due to enact another round of raises in July. Lawmakers heard so many complaints from prison guards that they engineered the latest command to ensure that raises are only withheld from employees who committed series disciplinary infractions.