Nebraska settles lawsuit filed by 5 guards who alleged prison was racially hostile workplace

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Nebraska has settled a civil rights lawsuit filed by five former guards of the State Penitentiary in Lincoln who alleged the facility was a racially hostile workplace.

The five and their law firm will receive a little over $777,000. The state did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, the Lincoln Journal Star said ( ).

The state will award $225,000 to Jaryl Ellis, and $100,000 each to Michael Hunter, Tiffany Johnson, Paul Zeiger and Aaron Delaney. The state also will pay $152,087 to Keating O'Gara Law Firm for legal fees and expenses.

The five declined to comment. Johnson is the only one who still works at the prison. Attorney Jefferson Downing said they were pleased with the settlements.

Downing said his office received the first payment installment— $50,000 to each of the five and to the firm — on Monday. The rest will have to be appropriated by the Legislature in next year's session, he said.

The Nebraska attorney general's office, which represented the state and several officials named, would not comment.

The guards filed the lawsuit in 2010, saying they were subject to racially charged comments and other bias at the penitentiary. The lawsuit said the black guards would hear comments from white guards such as, "The hood has arrived," and, "If the lights went out, all you would see is white teeth."

The five said in the lawsuit that they met with prison officials to discuss their complaints but the officials "did not intend to take substantive action to address the racially hostile working environment."

In 2012 a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the five hadn't met the legal standard for a hostile work environment. In February the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and sent the case back for trial on harassment claims.

In an email to the Journal Star, Nebraska Correctional Services Department spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith said the department provides annual training on diversity "and strives to provide an environment free from discrimination in any form."

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,

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