Rockview counselor, whistleblower adds federal lawsuit

The Rockview state prison corrections counselor who filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Commonwealth Court has added a federal suit against the state and the Department of Corrections.

Melissa Reed, who has worked for the state prison system since 2006 and has been at Rockview since 2011, filed a complaint Friday alleging a hostile work environment, wrongful failure to promote and retaliation.

She claimed she has repeatedly raised safety concerns, including personal receipt of threats and more than 100 letters from an unidentified inmate.

“The vast majority of the aforementioned letters have been sexual in nature and/or focused on Ms. Reed’s personal characteristics,” according to the filing.

Reed reported the letters to supervisors and requested safety measures such as carrying a radio while working, new locks on her office door, a formal investigation to determine the letter writer and his intentions and fixing the nonfunctioning panic alarm in her office.

She said the department’s response was to “man up” and that those who required such accommodations were “scaredy cats.”

But then a clerical worker at the prison was raped by an inmate while on duty. Omar Best, 37, was convicted in May and sentenced to life in prison for the July 2013 assault.

In August 2013, another inmate sent Reed a letter, stating that he would rape her at the first opportunity. That inmate was sent to solitary confinement, according to court documents.

Reed was subsequently transferred to a treatment specialist position, which she said was a result of her complaints. She claims that, in that position, she actually faced increased risk from multiple inmates. She was returned to her case manager position after filing a grievance, but had her previous caseload replaced.

Reed also alleged that, because of her complaints, she was denied a promotion that was given to a male employee with less experience and seniority. The other employee, the filing alleged, had multiple disciplinary and criminal infractions.

The lawsuit requested compensation and punitive damages but didn’t specify a dollar amount.

Reed’s Commonwealth Court case alleges many of the same points and was filed exactly one year before the federal suit.

The state is also facing a federal lawsuit from Omar Best’s victim.