This Bad Boss Triggered an Injured Employee’s PTSD — Then Took Him to Court.
Getting badly hurt by an inmate should have been the low point of Darrin Rushing’s career as a corrections officer.
But according to a lawsuit, it was just the start of his troubles.
Mr. Rushing’s leg had been shattered as he tried to break up a scuffle between prisoners at the Macomb Correctional Facility, a state prison outside Detroit. He was confined to a wheelchair for months.
When Mr. Rushing finally returned to full duty, he asked to have no further contact with Lester Gunn, the prisoner who broke his leg, but his request was denied. Before long he had an encounter with Mr. Gunn that awakened his post-traumatic stress disorder, according to testimony in the case.
Even so, Mr. Rushing’s boss, James Webster, kept assigning him to the same duty, jurors heard at trial — and when Mr. Rushing left work to avoid another bout of PTSD, Mr. Webster reported him for insubordination.
Tensions escalated between the men, according to testimony, as Mr. Webster harmed Mr. Rushing’s efforts to get a different job and gave him triggering tasks such as cleaning up blood after an assault.
Mr. Webster, a lieutenant, even dragged his subordinate into court, claiming that he feared Mr. Rushing would get physical. The supervisor sought a protective order that could have cost Mr. Rushing his job; a judge denied the request as improper.
James Webster is our latest Bad Boss of the Month.
Ultimately, Mr. Rushing filed a complaint against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), alleging several violations of Michigan’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act. This April, a state jury awarded Mr. Rushing more than $1.2 million in damages.
Mr. Rushing had grown up with a strong sense of duty: The youngest of six brothers, he began taking on extra tasks at age seven, including the collection of donated food, when his abusive, alcoholic father left the family, according to court documents.
After high school, Mr. Rushing served for six years in the Marines and held a number of service-oriented jobs. In 1999, he began working for the MDOC, earning a top honor at the training academy, he testified. He had a trouble-free corrections career until 2011, when he received his life-altering injury at Macomb.
According to the incident report, two inmates got into a fight. One prisoner was quickly restrained; Mr. Rushing was among the responders who tried to control the other, Lester Gunn, a large, heavy man who resisted violently.
“He fought, kicked, he dislocated my ankle, we fell to the floor-and when he fell on me, he bent my leg backward and I sustained a grade four spiral fracture” of the calf bone, Mr. Rushing testified. “[His] 230-pound body landed on me. He heard my leg snap in half. Everybody heard it.”
Mr. Rushing had to undergo surgery twice; a doctor advised him that any further injury could disable him permanently, he told jurors.
After the incident, Mr. Rushing took medical leave and, in 2012, swapped his wheelchair for a cane and returned to MDOC for a long transition period with lighter duties. Along the way, he finished up a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, being cleared by doctors to bear weight on his leg just six days before his graduation.
For several years, Mr. Rushing thrived doing administrative and counseling work. Then in 2015, while he was still limping, he was pushed back into full duty as a corrections officer at Macomb — and quickly learned that Mr. Gunn, the inmate who had broken his leg, was returning to the prison after a move elsewhere.
Mr. Rushing had first requested a no-contact order against Mr. Gunn from his hospital bed immediately after the incident, he testified, but the matter was moot back then. Now, it was more urgent.
Mr. Gunn had a violent history, according to court records. Multiple MDOC officers had no-contact orders against him for injuries that included bites, head-punching, and lacerations, with several requiring stitches and leading to prosecution, according to a “Special Problem Offender Notice” filed in the case.
Mr. Rushing’s concerns, however, were rebuffed .
Within the space of a month, Mr. Rushing faced Mr. Gunn three times in the chow hall at Macomb, triggering symptoms such as anxiety and an uncontrollably jittering foot. On the third occasion, he testified, the hulking inmate addressed him by name, shot a glance at the injured leg, and ominously asked how he was feeling.
This was enough to spark what Mr. Rushing’s doctor diagnosed as a PTSD episode, leading to several weeks of medical leave, another request for a no-contact order, and yet another denial — the fifth, according to Mr. Rushing’s complaint in the case .
When Mr. Rushing returned to Macomb, he was again assigned to the chow hall at the insistence of Mr. Webster, the lieutenant, according to testimony . On the first day, he quietly swapped duties with a colleague, but on the second day, he was ordered to comply. He pleaded with a sergeant for different duty, to no avail.
“I’ll do anything you want … even go dig through a prisoner’s poop,” he testified he said, before escalating the matter to the prison’s control center, where Mr. Webster was.
“I explained everything briefly … how I could not come face-to-face with Prisoner Gunn,” he said in a deposition. “I was not ready. And [Mr. Webster] said, You’re going to the chow hall.”
Feeling the onset of a panic attack, Mr. Rushing instead decided to go home sick. He was trembling as he removed his equipment, he testified, and kept dropping things. Under medical care for his PTSD, he wouldn’t return to the prison for several months.
The day he left, according to testimony, Mr. Webster requested that Mr. Rushing be investigated for insubordination.
Ironically, Mr. Gunn wasn’t even in the chow hall that day. No one told Mr. Rushing at the time, but the inmate he feared had been transferred to another facility for unrelated reasons .
After Mr. Rushing was cleared by his doctor, he returned to Macomb and faced the result of the insubordination probe that had been requested by Mr. Webster: A five-day unpaid suspension. The lieutenant was waiting outside the prison’s HR office after Mr. Rushing was informed and promptly requested another investigation based on his subordinate’s reaction.
In testimony, both men agreed that Mr. Rushing was angry and snapped at Mr. Webster outside the HR office. But Mr. Webster also claimed that Mr. Rushing spoke to another person and hinted at violence against the lieutenant — something Mr. Rushing denied.
Mr. Webster took the extraordinary step of asking a Michigan state judge for a protective order that would bar his subordinate from the workplace. Mr. Rushing was humiliated by being served with the papers in the prison lobby, in front of coworkers, he testified.
The judge quickly denied Mr. Webster’s request, saying at a hearing that the alleged threat, even if it had happened, was “vague” and “heat of the moment.” With no claim of further threats, MDOC’s internal process should be allowed to play out, she said; the lieutenant’s pleading “doesn’t fly.”
“Basically, you’re coming to this court for [Mr. Rushing] to lose his job,” the judge said. “I really don’t think that is the proper place.”
MDOC’s internal investigation led to a second suspension for Mr. Rushing. In an affidavit, a former deputy warden called both suspensions “inappropriate and excessive.”
“Officer Rushing should have been shown some compassion considering he was assaulted by a prisoner he would encounter,” he wrote.
Via a grievance process, Mr. Rushing ultimately retrieved some of the lost pay — but he continued to be harmed by the discipline process and by Mr. Webster’s failed request for a protective order.
In 2016, for instance, Mr. Rushing applied for a position with the Saint Clair County Sheriff’s Department. He reached the final round of interviews — but then, during a reference check, his prospective employer reached Mr. Webster.
“I’m probably not the person you want to talk to,” said Mr. Webster, according to an MDOC email filed in court. “I recently put a [personal protective order] out on Officer Rushing.”
Mr. Rushing didn’t get the job.
His disciplinary record stopped him from being promoted internally, according to testimony, despite Mr. Rushing’s long experience and strong education, plus military service that was considered as a positive factor by MDOC.
In 2017, for example, an assistant deputy warden told him he was the most qualified candidate to become a program coordinator, Mr. Rushing testified — but was “instantly deflated” to learn of the suspensions.
A candidate with less relevant experience was hired instead, according to court records.
Meanwhile, Mr. Webster continued to be his supervisor, assigning him tasks that Mr. Rushing viewed as punitive.
In one instance, a friend of Mr. Rushing was attacked by an inmate. According to Mr. Rushing’s deposition, blood was splattered as high as four feet on several walls; Mr. Webster ordered Mr. Rushing to clean it up, even though other officers were available.
According to a psychiatric evaluation in court records, the incident aggravated Mr. Rushing’s PTSD, increasing his nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. At trial, both Mr. Rushing and his wife told jurors that his marriage suffered from the ongoing stress of working with Mr. Webster; he withdrew from his family and stopped having dinner with them.
Mr. Rushing filed an internal complaint against Mr. Webster but, according to court documents, it went nowhere. In 2018, he filed his lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections.
In April 2022, after a three-week trial, a jury found MDOC liable to Mr. Rushing for failing to accommodate his disability; for discriminating against him; and for retaliation. Jury members awarded the officer, who remains employed by MDOC, more than $400,000 in past and future economic damages — and almost $868,000 for physical and emotional harm.
According to his attorney, Mr. Rushing was finally promoted shortly before the trial began.
The Employment Law Group® law firm was not involved in Rushing v. Michigan Department of Corrections. We select “Bad Boss” cases to illustrate the continuing relevance of employee protection laws for our newsletter’s audience, which includes attorneys and former TELG clients.
Mr. Rushing was represented by Marko Law.