Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jury finds Airway Heights Corrections Center had hostile work environment in sexual harassment case, DOC must pay $175k

The Airway Heights Correctional Center is seen near Spokane on June 4, 2018. The Department of Corrections is paying $175,000 after a jury in a sexual harassment lawsuit determined the facility had a hostile work environment.  (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A jury found there was a hostile work environment when a training supervisor allegedly sexually harassed a former corrections officer at Airway Heights Corrections Center in 2019.

The jury awarded Daniele Tavenner $175,000 after the Department of Corrections failed to take action when she reported sexual harassment.

Tavenner, 32, was hired by the Department of Corrections in February 2019. After some training, she was assigned to Airway Heights in April of that year, and she had to complete three shifts of on-the-job training.

During one of those training days, Tavenner said one of her training supervisors, Sgt. Jack Richardson, summoned her into his office “under the guise of ‘training and a checklist requirement.’ ”

Richardson proceeded to offer Tavenner “protection” from male staff members and inmates in exchange for sex, according to the lawsuit, among other inappropriate comments.

Tavenner was jarred by Richardson’s comments and, after some consideration, reported it to human resources. She asked to not interact with Richardson in the future, but Tavenner’s proposals were shut down, according to the lawsuit.

She resigned the next day.

Shortly after her resignation, Tavenner consulted with an attorney from the Advocates, a personal injury law firm.

“They’ve just been so supportive and made me feel heard and seen,” Tavenner said of her attorneys, John Harper and Stefanie Collins.

She filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections alleging a hostile work environment and quid pro quo.

After a six-day trial and less than a day of deliberation, a Spokane jury found there was a hostile work environment but did not find evidence of a quid pro quo relationship. They awarded Tavenner $175,000, according to Collins.

“I felt validated for the first time in a long time,” Tavenner said of the decision.

The Department of Corrections does not comment on past, current or pending litigation, said Tobby Hatley, media relations manager. Richardson was not charged with a crime and remained employed at the Department of Corrections as of Thursday.

She hopes the verdict will bring change to the department of corrections.

“Hopefully, it says that things need to change there,” Tavenner said. “That people shouldn’t be put in these positions, and that when allegations are made, they need to be taken more seriously.”

Tavenner noted the Department of Corrections was less willing to work to accommodate her because she was not a permanent employee.

“I don’t think that’s enough of a reason, that because you’re not a permanent employee, that you’re not protected,” she said.

Tavenner said she’s thankful for the jury taking the time to hear her case and is ready to move on.

“Life is good,” she said.