Share this article

print logo

Former Attica prison teacher wins $7 million verdict

Pamela Small says the harassment started in late 2009 and quickly escalated.

Even worse, she said, her bosses at Attica Correctional Facility did nothing about it.

A jury on Thursday agreed with the Lancaster woman's account of her time teaching at the maximum-security prison and awarded her $7 million in damages and lost pay.

In siding with Small, the jury found her the victim of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

"Utter relief," lawyer Jennifer A. Shoemaker said of her client's reaction to the verdict. "Someone finally heard her."

In pinpointing blame for Attica's hostile environment, the jury pointed to the state Department of Corrections, former Attica Superintendent James Conway and former Assistant Superintendent Sandra Dolce.

Carl Cuer, the corrections officer accused of harassing Small, was also found responsible.

"Witness after witness testified that they didn't do what they were supposed to do," Shoemaker said of Conway and Dolce. "Everyone was just passing the buck."

The verdict followed a trial before U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny that focused on Small's allegations against Cuer and the prison's leadership. She said the corrections officer repeatedly made sexually offensive comments and unwelcome sexual advances during her time teaching inmates at Attica.

In a statement Friday night, Department of Corrections spokesman Thomas Mailey said the Small case "is from a decade ago and occurred during another administration.  We are reviewing the determination on all fronts.  Nevertheless, be assured that we now have clear and enforceable policies that hold employees accountable and promote a safe and respectful work environment."

Mailey pointed to an expansion of departmental harassment and discrimination training, a new investigative process for these types of cases and what he described as "the nation’s strongest anti-sexual harassment law."

Early on in their relationship, Cuer told her that he had been speaking with God and that God had chosen her to be his new wife, she said in court papers.

Small insists that she never welcomed Cuer's advances and that, despite her efforts at discouraging him, his conduct became increasingly threatening. She also claims two other corrections officers warned her about conversations in which Cuer indicated he might buy a gun.

The harassment, according to Small, reached the point where she sought and received an order of protection against Cuer. Cuer was later arrested for violating the order.

During the trial, Cuer, a corrections officer for more than 30 years, claimed he and Small were platonic friends, nothing more. He also claimed that he transferred out of the prison's school building, where Small held classes, when his supervisor began questioning his conduct.

As early as March of 2010, according to Small, she alerted Conway to Cuer's improper behavior. She said she also wrote a letter to Cuer's supervisor.

Small said her time at Attica caused her health to deteriorate and that she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"She's not the same person," said Shoemaker. "I don't think she'll ever recover."

Shoemaker, a Rochester attorney, blasted the state for allowing Small's suit to drag on for six years without making a serious effort at settling the case.

The state, according to court records, made an offer of $600,000 last year but, according to Shoemaker, never increased it.

"They put her through years and years of needless litigation," she said. "The State of New York never did the right thing."

Overall, the jury awarded Small more than $7 million, the bulk of which is $4.8 million in compensatory damages.

The jury also gave her $50,000 in punitive damages and $2.17 million in lost pay. The lost pay amount is advisory and could be altered by Skretny.

Lawyers for the state and James Wujcik, a lawyer for Cuer, declined to comment Friday.

 

 

There are no comments - be the first to comment