Court overrules Department of Corrections in Rockview whistle-blower lawsuit

State Department of Corrections objections in a whistle-blower lawsuit regarding Rockview state prison have been overruled.

In an opinion filed May 2, Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James Gardner Collins directed the department to file an answer in the case brought by former Rockview counselor Melissa Reed.

The case was filed in December, five months after another Rockview employee was allegedly raped and strangled.

Court documents point to more than 100 letters directed to Reed from an inmate, many of them sexually explicit, dating to the beginning of her tenure at Rockview in 2011.

“In addition to reporting the letters, and upon belief that the sexual nature of the letters was escalating, Reed requested radios and other safety measures for protection,” documents claim.

“In June 2013, a deputy at SCI-Rockview responded to Reed’s request for additional safety measures by asking Reed and similarly situated individuals, in the presence of others, whether they were ‘scaredy cats.’ ”

After the alleged rape, Reed again raised concerns and spoke to risk assessment employees from the department who assured her that comments would be confidential. She alleges they were not, and she faced retaliation, including having the inmate who was targeting her returned to her work area, a transfer to a position requiring regular contact with inmates in an isolated setting, and being denied a promotion in favor of a male employee with less seniority and experience.

The department countered that Reed “failed to allege sufficient facts to demonstrate that she initiated a report of waste or wrongdoing,” not qualifying for a case under the whistle-blower law. The judge dismissed this idea, saying the suit was “replete with instances” of reports to superiors.

The department also alleged that Reed could not show a connection between her reports and the adverse actions. Collins called the arguments “unpersuasive,” saying Reed’s allegations “include a pattern of animus and inaction in response to her reports calling attention to the unsafe conditions and lack of basic protocols to abate risks to employees within SCI-Rockview.”

The judge said it is now up to the department to offer evidence that it was taking legitimate action.

“We are obviously happy with the outcome,” said Reed’s State College attorney, David Consiglio.

Consiglio said he anticipates the department will comply with the ruling and produce discovery documents for the case “within the coming days.”

The ruling comes one month after a second suit was filed against the department, this one by the alleged rape victim. The criminal case against the accused rapist, Omar Best, goes to trial May 20.