A former correctional officer at State Correctional Institution at Dallas has won a $62,000 verdict against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections after a federal jury found his race was a determining factor in his firing.
Ricardo C. Jackson of Factoryville filed suit in November 2013 alleging he was fired in May 2011 because he is black.
Jackson was purportedly fired for violating department policy, but employees of other races who committed more serious violations were treated less harshly, according to the lawsuit filed by Wilkes-Barre attorney Joseph C. Borland.
According to documents the state Attorney General’s Office filed in court, Ricardo was fired after authorities found marijuana and a gun in his vehicle in January 2011.
Jackson arrived at the prison that day for a shift and his vehicle was one of 18 selected for random searches, according to the filing.
Jackson consented to the search, which turned up a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber pistol, a loaded magazine, two marijuana roaches and a pink baggie of “plant matter” that tested positive for marijuana, according to the filing.
The department subsequently conducted a drug test on Jackson, who tested positive for marijuana, the filing says. Jackson was fired after admitting the gun and ammunition were his and that he smokes marijuana, according to the filing.
The department denied treating Jackson differently from other employees and said that although he generally did a competent job, Jackson had received previous warnings for misconduct.
Ricardo alleged the initial search disproportionately targeted black employees and that the investigation into his case was “drastically different” than those involving white employees.
Noting that the alleged contraband was found in the parking lot, Borland argued in a court filing that the state failed to prove the plant matter was marijuana and that the weapon was a security threat.
The department did not investigate another weapon found on the property, and, in fact, stores its own weapons in vehicles on the property, he wrote.
A jury on Wednesday ruled in Jackson’s favor, finding that “race was a determinative factor” in his firing. The jury awarded Jackson $62,000.
Borland on Thursday filed a motion seeking back pay and interest of $152,846 because of the jury’s verdict. The motion says Jackson is not seeking reinstatement.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections did not immediately return a message seeking comment.