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Puskas v. Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility

Supreme Court of Montana

August 13, 2013

CASSIE PUSKAS, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
PINE HILLS YOUTH CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; TERI YOUNG, in her official capacity as acting Superintendent; MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, and JOHN DOES A-ZZ, Defendants and Appellees.

Submitted on Briefs: May 8, 2013

Appeal From District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. BDV 2010-1217 Honorable Jeffrey M. Sherlock, Presiding Judge

For Appellant Alex Rate, Rate Law Office, P.C., Helena, Montana.

For Appellee McKenzie Hannan, Special Assistant Attorney General, Montana Department of Corrections, Helena, Montana.

BRIAN MORRIS JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Appellant Cassie Puskas (Puskas) appeals the decision and order from the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, that denied Puskas's sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims against Appellee Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility (Pine Hills). We affirm.

2 We address the following issues on appeal:

¶3 Whether substantial credible evidence supports the District Court's determination that Pine Hills held open an offer for Puskas to transfer units from June 2009 until Puskas quit in 2010?

¶ 4 A Whether the District Court correctly determined that Pine Hills reasonably and promptly offered a solution to end A.H. 's harassment of Puskas?

¶ 5 Whether the District Court correctly dismissed Puskas's retaliation claim against Pine Hills?

FACTS

¶ 6 Pine Hills serves as a youth correctional facility for male inmates up to age 18. Pine Hills is composed of five separate units, including a sex offender unit, a chemical dependency unit, and a maximum security unit. Puskas worked at Pine Hills as a correctional officer from December 2006 to January 2010. Puskas worked in the sex offender unit during the majority of her time employed at Pine Hills. All parties agree that Puskas had been a quality employee.

7 Puskas's immediate supervisor served as the "shift manager" for the particular shift. The shift manager's immediate supervisors are "unit managers." Shad Barrows (Barrows) served as Puskas's unit manager for the majority of Puskas's employment. Jodi Kirkwood (Kirkwood) later held this position.

¶ 8 Pine Hills imposes three levels of discipline on its inmates. Immediate disciplines, such as having to eat in a cell or miss a movie, represent the least severe. A serious behavior report represents the next level. The most severe offenses constitute "major rules violations" (MRV), such as assaultive behavior, deviate sexual conduct, or masturbation. Pine Hills submits MRVs to a discipline committee that either approves or disapproves the proposed disposition. Pine Hills's upper level management personnel comprise part of the review committee.

¶ 9 Masturbation by inmates proved to present a confusing policy at Pine Hills. Officers testified that an inmate's masturbation was acceptable if the youth did it in his cell, at night, and under the covers of his bed. Some officers deemed an inmate's masturbation in front of the small window in the door while watching staff, or while exposed in the youth's room, to constitute an MRV. Other officers testified, however, that they would just walk on by if they saw an inmate masturbating in his room.

¶ 10 Barrows circulated a memorandum in October 2009 to Puskas and other correctional officers in the sex offender unit. Barrows noted that "[t]here is NO such thing as an MRV for masturbating during programming hours." In the very next sentence, however, Barrows declares that "[i]f a youth is masturbating with the obvious intent that staff members/youth seeing him (ex: [standing at his door, sitting on the bed facing the door window . . .), this would be an MRV." The memorandum further provided that "[i]f you have to look in the window and try to ascertain if the youth is masturbating[, ] this is probably not an MRV."

ΒΆ 11 A.H. was an inmate at Pine Hills from October 2008 to June 2010. A.H. "aged out" of the youth correctional system when he turned 18 in June 2010. Pine Hills housed A.H. in the sex offender unit during most of his time at Pine Hills. By most accounts A.H. appeared to be "a very unpleasant ...


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