Female correctional officers have won a $20 million settlement of a lawsuit claiming sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in federal prisons.
The settlement also includes 20 pages of procedural changes to improve employee safety, including improved training about sexual harassment, better monitoring for processing incident reports, and removing front pockets from inmate clothing to eliminate hidden masturbating.
The settlement resulted after a judge ruled in 2016 in favor of the lawsuit filed by a collective of women working at the nation’s largest male federal prison in Coleman, Fla.
The settlement was one of the largest class-action settlements leveled to date for pervasive sexual harassment, The Washington Post reported Jan. 27.
“These women walked into a high-security prison every day, knowing that they were going to be harassed by inmates and told by male colleagues and supervisors that they shouldn’t be there,” said Heidi Burakiewicz, lead attorney for the case.
The lawsuit alleged that more than 500 female correctional officers, teachers, nurses and office services employees were subjected to a hostile work environment, sex discrimination, and deliberate indifference.
The lead plaintiff was Correctional Officer Taronica White. She said from the first day she started working at the new maximum-security prison, she routinely got catcalls as she walked across the exercise yard post and inmates exposed their private parts to her during count time.
White said she reported the incidents to her superiors. Nevertheless, little to nothing was done to stop the behavior.
The Post reported that another plaintiff said one night she was exposed to 25 to 30 inmates masturbating. “It felt like a free for all … I was afraid for my safety.”
25 percent of millennial-age American men think asking a woman who is not a romantic partner to go for a drink is harassment, according to a recent survey by The Economist/YouGov reports The New York Times 1-17-18.
More than a third of millennial say that if a man compliments a woman’s looks it is harassment, according to a recent survey by The Economist/YouGov reports The New York Times 1-17-18.
Sexual misconduct by the inmates remains a serious problem in a male prison, said Unit Manager Tammy Padgett.
Improvements are being made “but we still have growth to do,” said Shirley Moore Smeal, president of the Association of Women Executives in Corrections. “Some people would still rather not have women working in corrections at all.”
“Women are drawn to these jobs for the same reason anyone would be, they are stable government jobs with low entry requirements,” said Dana Britton, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
Prisons provide attractive jobs in pastoral, economically depressed areas. Nevertheless, women’s increasing presence in men’s prisons has often sparked conflict with the men who have traditionally held those jobs.
The Post article says that men’s prisons did not start hiring women until the 1970s, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Today women account for 30 percent of correctional department workers; this includes community-based facilities, juvenile facilities, and jails.
A similar lawsuit involving the District of Columbia Department of Corrections was settled in 1999. Lawsuits have also been filed in New Mexico, Denver and Cook County, Ill.