DES MOINES, Iowa — A jury on Friday rejected an Iowa prison guard's lawsuit that claimed she was sexually harassed after inmates were repeatedly allowed to watch sexually graphic and violent moves.
The Polk County jury reached its decision shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, a day after hearing closing arguments in a three-week trial involving the lawsuit Kristine Sink filed against the state and the Iowa Department of Corrections in 2012.
Sink also had alleged retaliation and discrimination by Corrections officials, but the jury never heard those allegations because they were dismissed by a judge before the trial began. Jurors were only to consider whether Sink had proven sexual harassment had occurred and caused her problems for which she should be compensated.
Sink's attorney, Paige Fiedler, said in Thursday's closing arguments that Sink suffers from major depressive disorder and experiences nightmares and fear similar to post-traumatic stress disorder faced by soldiers in battle. She told jurors $4.5 million for past and present emotional distress would be fair compensation.
The jury of four women and four men sided with the state.
"We're still in disbelief," said Craig Sink, Kristine Sink's husband. "She's completely floored. It's devastating. She thought she was taking a morale stand, not just because she was being harassed but because it was the right thing to do."
Sink says she endured inmates masturbating at her, threatening to kill her, and on one occasion she was doused with an inmate's urine. She alleges supervisors allowed inmate harassment to continue over a period of years during which supervisors belittled her complaints and co-workers harassed her.
When officials finally barred movies with sexually explicit content in September 2011, inmates blamed Sink and subjected her to a torrent of insults and death threats, Fiedler said. Sink continues to work at the prison but in an area away from inmates.
Assistant Iowa Attorney General Tyler Smith told jurors that officials appropriately dealt with Sink's complaints and that the difficulties she faced were part of working in a prison.
"The jury got it right. They were able to sort out the differences between mistakes and challenges that were common to everyone in that workplace from what the plaintiff claims was harassment toward her," he said.
He said testimony from prison officials and some of Sink's co-workers showed the jury that they were just people trying to do their jobs in a difficult environment — the state's maximum security prison, which holds the most serious offenders.
Smith acknowledged repeatedly that showing the sexually charged movies to sex offenders and rapists was a mistake that was corrected. Fiedler showed clips from 12 of the movies in court.
"To see the plaintiff blow up movies that were shown on a 24-inch screen at the prison on a 92-inch screen was shocking," Smith said.
Sink could seek a new trial if she can prove a legal error occurred, ask the judge to set aside the verdict or file an appeal with the Iowa Supreme Court.
Fiedler did not immediately return messages.