Thursday, October 15, 2009

EEOC Settles Sex Harassment Case with Private Prison

EeocIn addition to labor and employment, much of my career and teaching has been in the area of civil rights, and it was in that context that I first encountered the concept of the private prison. Essentially a product of outsourcing, private prisons are hired by states to house those convicted of crimes and sentenced to incarceration. It seems like a terrible idea to me for a number of reasons, and this case has added another one.

Earlier this week, the EEOC announced that it had settled a sexual harassment and retaliation case on behalf of 21 female workers against a private prison in Colorado for $1.3 million. From the press release:

In its lawsuit (EEOC v. Dominion Correctional Services, LLC and Corrections Corporation Of America, Civ. No. 1:06-cv-01956-KVH), filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, the EEOC charged that female employees at the prison were subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment that included male managers forcing them to perform sex acts in order to keep their jobs. Two chiefs of security, who reported directly to the warden and to whom all security personnel at the prison reported, were allowed to resign after numerous complaints of sexual harassment and rape, according to the EEOC. In the settlement, the defendants did not admit liability.

“We at the EEOC see an unfortunately high number of sexual harassment cases, but what allegedly happened here was shocking,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “No working woman should ever have to endure harassment and requests for sexual favors by managers in order to earn a paycheck – or suffer retaliation for complaining about the illegal harassment.”

Among the allegations in the court record are the following: A female officer made a complaint of sexual harassment against a male coworker, and was then placed in an isolated location, where she was raped by the man about whom she had complained. The Chief of Security forced a female corrections officer to have intercourse with him, which she did in order to keep her job. After that Chief of Security resigned, his replacement was the subject of numerous written complaints of sexual harassment, including complaints that he regularly commented on female employee’s bodies, and touched female officers inappropriately.

Other male managers similarly expected their female subordinates to provide sexual favors, the EEOC says in the suit. For example, a female corrections officer was coerced first into performing oral sex, and later intercourse, with a male captain, for fear of losing her job. Another female officer testified that a male lieutenant regularly made comments to her about how she looked and commented that he could do a lot better than her husband. He then allegedly told her that if she wanted to keep her job she needed to sleep with him. She resigned.

In addition to these allegations, the female employees testified that the male employees openly viewed pornography in the workplace on a regular basis, made demeaning sexual comments about the female employees, and regularly told sexual jokes.

The lawsuit further alleges that female employees who complained about the sexually hostile workplace were retaliated against. The retaliation included ostracizing the women after their complaints were publicized, scrutinizing their work, accusing them of misconduct, and assigning them to the worst and most dangerous work assignments at the prison.

EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill of the Phoenix District, which includes Colorado, said, “The conduct alleged here is reprehensible. In a profession already fraught with the danger of dealing with prison inmates, it is inexcusable that another layer of fear was imposed by the men to whom these women reported and with whom they worked. The EEOC treats this type of violation with the utmost urgency and will act vigorously to uphold the laws prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation.”

EEOC Acting District Director Rayford Irvin of the Phoenix District Office, added, “This case illustrates the continuing struggle women face in jobs traditionally held by men. The misuse of management power is especially troubling and will not be tolerated by the EEOC.”

Personally, I don't think $1.3 million is enough and hope that those men whose conduct was criminal get to see their own facility from the inside.


Employment Discrimination | Permalink

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