January 11, 2023 

Government Accountability Project Files First Amendment Complaint on Behalf of Whistleblower Nurse Dawn Wooten

WASHINGTON—On December 29, 2022, Dawn Wooten, through her attorneys at the Government Accountability Project in Washington, DC and Jack Batson of Augusta, GA, filed a complaint in federal district court alleging that LaSalle Corporation and related entities violated her First Amendment rights of speech and association by discriminating against her for communicating with the press, Congress, and nonprofit advocacy groups about serious wrongdoing she discovered in 2020 while working as a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia.  

In her complaint, Ms. Wooten alleges that she was subjected to an unlawful reprimand and demotion to non-shift, part-time service in July 2020 for raising concerns about medical misconduct she discovered while working as a nurse at ICDC. In September 2020, after never having been assigned a single hour of part-time work, Ms. Wooten filed whistleblower complaints with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, which remain pending resolution. After filing these complaints, she also publicly spoke out to the press, to Congress, and to public interest advocacy organizations as a whistleblower about her concerns, which included LaSalle’s failures to protect immigrants and workers from the spread of COVID-19 and that immigrant women in detention were undergoing invasive gynecological procedures without informed consent. Extensive media reporting about Ms. Wooten’s whistleblower disclosures followed.    

Ms. Wooten increased her public whistleblower advocacy urging accountability through legislative and executive corrective actions against LaSalle and the immigration detention system.  Ms. Wooten also supported the filing on November 9, 2020, of a civil rights lawsuit by immigrant women survivors of medical mistreatment against the government and against LaSalle in the case of Yanira Yesenia Oldaker v. Giles, No. 7:20-CV-00224 (WLS) (M.D. Ga. Dec. 22, 2020). She has been identified by name in that litigation (from the complaint forward) as a substantial source of allegations against LaSalle.   

LaSalle refused to return Ms. Wooten to active service despite advertising job openings for nursing positions for which she was uniquely qualified. After December 31, 2020 passed without having been assigned a single hour of work, Ms. Wooten concluded that she had likely been constructively discharged, despite still being listed as an employee in LaSalle’s official records.  

The federal district court complaint alleges that LaSalle’s refusal to call Ms. Wooten for nursing shifts and its ultimate constructive termination was in retaliation for her media and legislative advocacy. 

Ms. Wooten requests in her complaint that the Court award her injunctive relief ordering a return to active employment at the same or similar position she held before the reprisal; declaratory relief in the form of a judgment that the Defendants must allow employees to communicate freely with the media and Congress about matters of public concern when doing so would not unduly interfere with business operations; and monetary damages as a result of LaSalle, acting under color of Federal authority, violating her First Amendment Rights.  

This is a precedent-setting case because Ms. Wooten is asking the Court to regard LaSalle as having the same duties and capacity to be sued as does the DHS and ICE itself.  She alleges that 

LaSalle acted as an agency of the federal government under 5 USC § 701(a)(b)(1) by exercising the authority of a federal “agency,” and LaSalle’s actions against Ms. Wooten are subject to judicial review under 5 USC § 706 in the same way that a court reviews the actions of a federal agency toward citizens like her. The same federal district court judge, W. Louis Sands, assigned to the Oldaker litigation has been assigned to also handle this lawsuit by Ms. Wooten. 

Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and attorney for Ms. Wooten, Dana Gold, stated: 

“Government Accountability Project believes it is time to hold LaSalle and the private detention industry to the full measure of the law. This case is on the forefront of whistleblower litigation as Ms. Wooten alleges that LaSalle violated her first amendment rights by retaliating against her for her protected speech—speech that prompted DHS Secretary Mayorkas to terminate ICE’s contract with LaSalle at ICDC in May 2021, noting ‘we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention.’ The Department of Homeland Security notoriously lacks meaningful oversight—indeed, a representative of ICE medical leadership testified before Congress in November 2022 that ICE would not have known of the medical abuses at ICDC but for Ms. Wooten’s whistleblower disclosures. Ms. Wooten’s litigation, if successful, will validate to workers in more than 200 ICE detention centers that their rights will be vindicated if they speak up about wrongdoing and abuses perpetrated by federal contractors.”  

Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 202.926.3304 

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.