Jessica Cejnar / Monday, March 22 @ 4:24 p.m.

Teacher at Pelican Bay State Prison Sues CDCR Alleging Racism, Harassment


Aerial shot of Pelican Bay State Prison.

An adult education teacher at Pelican Bay State Prison is taking legal action against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in response to alleged racism and harassment he says he’s endured from his superiors.

Charles Thompson, an African American and a SEIU Local 1000 representative who has worked at the prison since 2014, is currently teaching elementary school. He said he has re-filed a May 18, 2017 lawsuit against CDCR, naming former vice principal, Janice Nelson, for claims of harassment, creating a hostile work environment, retaliation, discrimination and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Thompson said he plans to file further lawsuits. He said his claims for damages to his health because of his treatment at Pelican Bay were approved by the State Compensation Insurance Fund.

“I have two attorneys,” Thompson told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday. “I’ve got one working on a big case, that’s the accumulation of 2014 all the way to 2021, and then I have a worker’s compensation attorney who is currently negotiating with them.”

The lawsuit against Nelson is still pending, Thompson said, adding that it was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thompson said he’s waiting on his attorney to issue subpoenas to the persons named in the other lawsuit he’s filing.

In his complaint against Nelson, Thompson states she referred to him as “boy” and “pimp” in the workplace.

According to Thompson, Nelson also told him, “Boy just doesn’t want to follow orders” and “You have a problem taking orders from women.”

When Thompson filed internal complaints of harassment and discrimination against Nelson, Nelson allegedly retaliated against him, leading him to seek a restraining order against her.

“For example, after Plaintiff complained of Defendant Janice Nelson’s harassment and discrimination, Defendant Janice Nelson responded with a false accusation, claiming the Plaintiff prevented her from leaving her office,” Thompson’s lawsuit states. “In addition, Plaintiff learned of indirect threats from a third-party that Defendant Janice Nelson’s husband intended to ‘deal’ with the Plaintiff. This resulted in Plaintiff seeking a restraining order in Del Norte County.”

Thompson further states that CDCR also delayed requests for time off from work and denied him advancement through CDCR’s school system.

Thompson’s complaint said this treatment has led him to suffer emotional distress.

“The intentional infliction of emotional distress described herein was done with malice, hatred, and ill will toward Plaintiff, and with the intent and desire to injure him,” Thompson’s lawsuit states.

According to Thompson, he filed a restraining order against Nelson in 2016 and she retired from the prison in 2017.

Even though Nelson no longer works at Pelican Bay, Thompson says the harassment and racist behavior continues. A workers’ Jan. 24, 2020 compensation claim filed with the State Compensation Fund against CDCR for mental injury was approved on Jan. 26, 2021.

Thompson said he was also escorted off prison grounds on Jan. 22, 2021 — his birthday — after relating his struggles with mental illness, thoughts of suicide and his frustrations with his superiors.

“They searched my vehicle while I’m escorted out of my work area,” Thompson told the Outpost. “They send police to my home on my birthday, so my wife thinks I’ve relapsed. She’s going ballistic crying. My three 9-year-old girls are crying because they think I’m getting arrested. They got me standing out side (asking me), ‘Do you feel like killing yourself?’ I said that story was from two years ago.”

In an administrative inquiry with Lt. Joseph Anderson, Jan. 22, 2021, Thompson said though he admitted that he had experienced a psychological crisis once, he never expressed self-loathing, fear, hopelessness or shame during his conversation with his colleagues.

“The insidious allegation that I mean to do myself or others harm is a reckless accusation,” Thompson wrote in a statement to Anderson. “This egregious action of having the police show up at my residence, respectfully checking up on my welfare and telling me they were acting on a current and live crisis goes beyond hardhanded tactics and represents misrepresentations and actions perpetrated by my accusers.”

When reached for comment, CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thornton said she couldn’t comment on Thompson’s specific case as it is ongoing litigation.

“CDCR is committed to having a work environment free from any form of discrimination and/or harassment where everyone is treated with respect,” she said.

Documents:

Thompson vs. CDCR and Janice Nelson

Workers' Compensation Claim

Administrative Inquiry


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