Nov 30, 2021 - News

A Polk County jail whistleblower’s $65K settlement

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A Polk County Jail social worker fired last year after criticizing how the facility handled COVID-19 restrictions was awarded $65,000 in a settlement approved last week by the Board of Supervisors.

Why it matters: Michaela Jens alleged her termination was retaliatory.

Of note: At least 89 inmates and nine staffers had tested positive for the virus, according to county data released two days after Jens was discharged.

Flashback: Jens was hired in early 2020 as an employee of Wellpath, a company contracted to provide medical and behavioral health care services in the jail.

  • Her jail security clearance was revoked by county staff soon after she complained that the facility's COVID-19 protocols were "a clusterf---k" and that inmates with mental illness were being treated poorly, according to her lawsuit.
  • Wellpath fired her because jail employees must have security clearance to work inside the facility, the lawsuit says.

State of play: At least five individuals either currently or formerly incarcerated at the jail have alleged in court documents since Jens' termination that they were sexually abused by a jail doctor. Litigation in some of those cases continues.

  • Meanwhile, the county Sheriff's Office continues to struggle with COVID-19, including a warning this month that it must partake in the county employee vaccine-or-test mandate.
  • Three inmates and one jail staffer tested positive for COVID-19 as of Nov. 19, the latest information published by the department.

Of note: The Sheriff's Office declined Axios' request for comment Monday about Jens' termination.

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