Ex-prison guard’s retaliation suit gets green light from federal appeals panel

Friday, September 8, 2000

Officials at the Arkansas Department of Corrections who allegedly
retaliated against a former guard after he gave unfavorable testimony in a
lawsuit can be held liable for violating the guard’s First Amendment
rights, a federal appeals court panel has ruled.

Paul Hudson, who used to work at a maximum security ADC facility in
Tucker, contends in a federal lawsuit that several ADC officials retaliated
against him shortly after he testified favorably on behalf of a former
co-worker in a lawsuit against the department in September 1997.

Hudson alleged in his April 1998 lawsuit that as a result of his
testimony he was investigated twice by internal affairs, denied a promotion and
denied accrued vacation time after testifying.

The defendants countered that these actions were unrelated to
Hudson’s testimony. They also argued that they were entitled to qualified
immunity because they did not violate any clearly established constitutional

After a federal district court refused to dismiss Hudson’s
claims and to grant the defendants qualified immunity in October 1999, the
defendants appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Sept. 6, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit unanimously
affirmed the lower court with respect to most of the defendants in
Hudson v. Norris

The panel noted that all of the alleged adverse actions —
internal affairs investigations and denial of vacation time — occurred
within four months of Hudson’s testimony.

The panel described this “temporal proximity” as

“The large number of adverse actions that occurred hard on the
heels of the protected activity in this case, particularly when juxtaposed with
Mr. Hudson’s previously strong employment record, is significant evidence
that what happened here was more than just coincidence,” the panel wrote.

The panel also noted that some of the defendants’ reasons for
taking adverse actions against Hudson were “unfounded.”

The panel also rejected most of the defendants’ claims for
qualified immunity, citing prior 8th Circuit case law establishing that
“no reasonable officer could believe that retaliating against an employee
for exercising free speech rights, including the right to testify on a matter
of public concern such as prison administration, was permissible.”

The case now goes back to the district court for further proceedings.

Silas Brewer Jr., Hudson’s attorney, said that “the
evidence of retaliation in this case is very strong.”

Brewer said he was pleased that he would have the chance to prove the
allegations in the complaint at trial.

Calls to the state attorney general’s office were not

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