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A former Connecticut Department of Corrections employee, who the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities said was discriminated against for her personal relationship with an inmate, should have been looking for new employment following her dismissal, according to Superior Court Judge Henry S. Cohn. On DOC’s appeal of the CHRO decision, Cohn found substantial evidence on the record that the DOC discriminated against employee Barbara Hawkins, but remanded the case to the CHRO. Cohn said that because a hearing officer for the CHRO did not explicitly state that a reduction in back pay for a former corrections officer was due to a failure to mitigate damages, the commission must now recalculate lost wages requested by the former employee. Although the CHRO argued, according to court documents, that a hearing officer had already applied a reduction in back pay on behalf of Corrections employee Barbara Hawkins based on unemployment compensation she received, Cohn said that did not go far enough. “Here it was erroneous to give no reduction at all,” Cohn wrote in his Nov. 2 decision. “The court cannot conclude that the hearing officer used the deduction for unemployment compensation as a means to address mitigation of damages.” CHRO Spokesperson Lena Ferguson declined to comment, stating that the case was “still in the appeals stage.” According to Cohn’s memorandum of decision, Hawkins was fired from her job as a corrections officer at the maximum-security correctional facility in Somers after she revealed she was involved in a romantic relationship with an inmate at another facility. Hawkins said she was familiar with a rule in the department’s employee handbook directing employees to “avoid undue familiarity with inmates.” She concluded, however, that based on what she called past practices in Somers, that inmates and employees from separate institutions were permitted to pursue personal relationships, and that the provision applied only to staff and inmates at the same facility. Hawkins, who has been an employee of the state of Connecticut since 1989, further stated, according to Cohn’s decision, that the administration of the Somers facility encouraged correction officers to “develop a rapport with inmates” in order to obtain valuable, reliable information, especially pertaining to security issues. Upon a supervisor’s instruction, Hawkins was asked to gain information from two rival gang members at the prison, including one with whom she ultimately became romantically involved after he was transferred to a Hartford facility. Later, according to the decision, Hawkins was relieved of her duties after two hearings, and placed on administrative leave without pay. Three months later, she was terminated from state employment for sponsoring her lover on several weekend furloughs, in violation of the department’s undue familiarity provision. She filed a union grievance and was reinstated, with the dismissal changed on her record to an unpaid disciplinary suspension. (She is still employed by the Corrections department.) Hawkins, who is African-American, then filed a complaint with the CHRO alleging discrimination, arguing that other employees in similar positions had not been punished in the same manner. The CHRO later concluded that, in an effort to reinvigorate enforcement of its undue familiarity rule, the department sought to make an example of Hawkins and terminated her because she was a black female. “The hearing officer concluded that the DOC disciplined some males and some females of all races but the discipline imposed on Hawkins [and another terminated, black female officer] was more severe than the discipline imposed on men and white and Hispanic women for comparable or worse offenses.”

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