FORT PIERCE -- An eight-member federal jury has ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to pay $630,000 to 14 former employees at a Martin County prison who say prison officials were negligent in curbing lewd behavior directed at them from prison inmates.
The women, a classification officer and 13 nurses at the Martin Correctional Institution north of Indiantown, were originally part of a statewide group of former prison employees who filed suit against the state prison system.
They all claimed that inmates housed in the close management units, which are essentially prisons within the prisons, would routinely perform lewd acts in front of them and shout obscenities at them.
Prison guards, they say, would either laugh or ignore the behavior, and for years their complaints went unheard.
"Nursing is supposed to be one of the last noble professions, and to have that happen to us, it's just unspeakable," said Paula LaCroix-Cutlip, one of the plaintiffs. "I think we all feel vindicated. We're glad that the jury listened, and we hope the department's eyes are opened now.
The amount the jury awarded works out to $45,000 in damages for each victim, a big step from the settlement amount that was proposed by the department before the trial began.
Had they agreed to the settlement offer, the women would have each received about $13,000 each. Wes Pittman, an attorney for the women, said the department had offered as little as $1,300 to individual plaintiffs.