FCI workers deny harassment

Three employees facing lawsuit by former inmate

Three employees of the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto have denied in response to a lawsuit that they intentionally harassed an inmate in 2009 because of his religion.

Charles Mack, 56, of Philadelphia has been engaged in a lengthy court battle, contending the harassment eventually led to his dismissal from a job in the prison commissary and the loss of his $100 monthly stipend.

U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson in Johnstown twice dismissed Mack’s complaints, but the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mack could pursue his civil lawsuit against three defendants.

Former Warden John Yost and Associate Warden Tim Kuhn were dropped as defendants in an order issued by Gibson.

The 3rd Circuit opinion issued last fall gave the inmate the right to pursue his lawsuit against Jeffrey Stevens, who was a trust fund supervisor; Douglas Roberts, who was a material handler in the commissary; and Samuel Veslosky, a warehouse foreman.

According to a status conference memo by Gibson issued this year, the 3rd Circuit upheld a First Amendment retaliation claim by Mack against Roberts, Veslosky and Stevens and a claim for violation of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act against Roberts and Veslosky.

On Tuesday, the defendants filed their answer through Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer R. Andrade of the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The answer categorically denied the specifics of Mack’s complaint.

Mack, who is a Muslim, contended he was harassed while working in the commissary warehouse.

He stated that the harassment frightened him and forced him to give up his daily religious prayers while at work.

Mack said he had orally complained about two incidents of harassment to a prison official, and it was after that when he was informed he would no longer be employed in the commissary.

The answer to the lawsuit stated the charges by Mack “are denied.”

It did not go into the specifics of the relationship between Mack and his on-duty supervisors.

The defendants admitted Mack was terminated from his inmate work assignment but stated, “Defendants are without knowledge and information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the remaining averments … they are specifically denied.”

The lawsuit answer also outlined several possible defenses available to the defendants including the court’s lack of jurisdiction, the lawsuit being barred due to the statute of limitations and that Mack has not stated a valid legal claim.

Another possibility is that the defendants are immune from lawsuit.

The judge has given both sides the right to undertake discovery proceedings, a phase of the case where possible witnesses are interviewed and records reviewed. Discovery is to be completed by Aug. 31.

Mack, who was released from FCI Loretto three weeks ago, petitioned Wednesday for appointment of an attorney to pursue his lawsuit, pointing out he no longer has access to a law library as he did in prison.

The former inmate in asking for back wages as well as damages in excess of $75,000 from each defendant.