A Bowie woman claims she was fired by a health-services contractor for refusing to keep quiet after she witnessed guards beating inmates at Patuxent Institution, the state’s correctional mental health facility in Jessup.
Gloria Cline has filed a wrongful termination suit against MHM Services Inc., which contracts with government agencies in 10 states to provide health care services at correctional facilities.
In the action transferred to U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Cline says she was working as a call nurse for MHM when a supervisor told her to withhold information about an incident in which she saw guards hitting inmates who were on the floor.
Cline submitted a written statement to law enforcement officials anyway and her employment was terminated, according to her complaint. When she found a new job, she says, her former supervisor called her new employer, made “defamatory statements” about her and she was let go.
Cline’s attorney, Daniel E. Kenney of Morris E. Fischer LLC in Silver Spring, declined to comment on the case. MHM Services and its attorney, Angela F. Ramson of Greenberg Traurig LLP in Atlanta, Ga., did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
MHM Services is arguing for the case to be moved out of the court since Cline’s employee agreement dictates that all claims and disputes go to arbitration.
“As all of Cline’s claims ‘arise out of or relate to’ Cline’s employment with MHM, they fall squarely within the scope of the Alternative Dispute Resolution provision,” MHM Services argued in a motion to dismiss the court proceedings.
The action originally was filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court in January, but was removed to the federal court last week.
Cline began working at MHM Services in July 2010, the complaint says. In September 2011, Cline was assigned to work on a nursing unit at Patuxent Institution, the only dedicated treatment facility within the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
On Sept. 3, Cline alleges, she followed the sound of raised voices that she assumed were inmates fighting. Instead, she says, she saw officers “hitting inmates on the floor” and “striking inmates and using physical force to attack inmates that were subdued on the ground.”
After officers who were assigned to investigate the incident asked Cline for a written statement, her supervisor, Ademola Ajayi, told her not to write anything and that he would “take care of it,” the complaint alleges.
Because Cline believed what she witnessed was illegal, she wrote a statement and submitted it to law enforcement officials.
Afterward, Ajayi told Cline the “offices were mad at [Cline] for what she wrote” and that she was lying in her statement, she alleges.
In early October, Ajayi removed Cline from the facility’s work schedule and did not place her in another correctional facility.
Cline found a job with Corizon Health Inc., which also provides health care to inmates in correctional facilities, in February 2012. She began working at the Jessup Correctional Institution (formerly the Maryland House of Correction-Annex).
According to Cline’s complaint, Ajayi then called Corizon’s human resources department, “made defamatory statements” about Cline to her new employer, and told Corizon that Cline did not file a report about the fighting incident and had violated nursing policies.
Cline was fired two weeks after she was hired by Corizon.
Her lawsuit includes one count of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, one count of defamation and one count of intentional interference with economic relations.
“Defendant MHM and Ajayi, had reason to know, and calculated that their actions would cause damage to Plaintiff in her lawful business and economic relationship with Corizon,” the complaint states.
Cline is seeking back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs in amounts to be determined at a trial.
Cline also originally named Ajayi in the complaint, but he was not properly served with the lawsuit and Baltimore County Circuit Judge Julie L. Ensor ordered he be removed from the case in July.
The lawsuit comes during a time of increased scrutiny for the state’s correctional facilities.
In April, 25 corrections officers and inmates were indicted for roles in a scheme run in the Baltimore City Detention Center by the Black Guerilla Family gang. With the help of corrections officers, gang members smuggled drugs and cell phones into the facility and sold them to other inmates.
Last Monday, a prison guard at North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland was stabbed by an inmate after Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services officials failed to warn him that the prisoner had threatened an attack. And on Wednesday, two corrections officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center were injured after a struggle with a detainee.