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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

County pays $300,000 to settle former guard’s bias, harassment suit against Geiger

Spokane County will pay $300,000 to settle a former Geiger Corrections Center guard’s claim of on-the-job discrimination and harassment.

Beverley Ridley-Gardner complained of racial and gender discrimination as well as harassment for reporting problems such as male guards fraternizing with female inmates.

County commissioners approved the settlement Tuesday without admitting fault. Ridley-Gardner couldn’t be reached for comment.

Ridley-Gardner sued the county on grounds that she was wrongfully fired in May 2008 after years of harassment that supervisors ignored.

She claimed in the suit the harassment began after “occasionally” lodging complaints of race- and gender-based discrimination.

Ridley-Gardner believed she was Geiger’s first black female corrections officer when she was hired in August 1994.

In her suit, she said her report that she had “received information” that guards were improperly fraternizing with inmates also generated retaliation.

Ridley-Gardner alleged “hostile treatment, false allegations, heightened security, unwarranted criticism and unwarranted discipline.” The county human resources office refused to take her complaints seriously, she said.

In 2004, she complained, an “irregular investigation” by hostile co-workers caused her to be disciplined for unauthorized use of a county vehicle even though vehicle policies “were not clearly stated.”

Distress over that incident led her to seek mental health counseling, Ridley-Gardner stated in her lawsuit.

She said she learned in 2005 that co-workers and supervisors were passing around an illicit recording of a conversation she had with another officer.

Also, Ridley-Gardner said, an anonymous e-mail with “cruel comments” about her was circulated among the Geiger staff after she was promoted to a supervisory position in February 2006.

She said she became fearful that “no one had her back,” and took several days of leave because of stress from criticism over a prisoner-release mistake she made. She was demoted when she returned.

Ridley-Gardner said she took medical leave again in June 2006 for “severe anxiety and depression.” Numerous disputed discussions followed, but she never returned to work.

“I thought I did everything I could to get her back to work, but it seemed like something always got in the way,” said sheriff’s Capt. John McGrath, who was hired as Geiger’s assistant director in the same month Ridley-Gardner went on long-term leave.

McGrath said his review of county records indicates Ridley-Gardner’s allegations were investigated and determined to be unfounded.

However, he acknowledged incidents that resemble some of Ridley-Gardner’s complaints.

Corrections officer Bernard R. Baumgardner III was convicted of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct for having sex with a female inmate in January 2006. The county paid $250,000 to settle the inmate’s complaint.

Also, county commissioners fired Geiger Director Leon Long in November 2007 after an independent investigator supported union allegations of incompetence and inappropriate conduct.

A Geiger supervisors’ union accused Long of bad behavior that included making crude sexual jokes in front of employees.