Suit: State, MDOC bias against female officers

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Monday against the state of Michigan and its Department of Corrections, alleging both are engaged in sex-based job discrimination against female correctional officers.

The complaint says the state and its department are in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges that Michigan and MDOC discriminated against female employees assigned to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility by implementing an overly broad female-only assignment policy and by unnecessarily denying requests by female employees for transfers.

“Employers may not unduly lock workers into or out of a job because of their sex,” said Vanita Gupta, principal deputy Assistant Attorney General with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Qualified male and female correctional officers deserve equal opportunities to compete for job assignments and transfers without unnecessary barriers.”

Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the MDOC, said the department just received the lawsuit and had no additional comment. Ari B. Adler, spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said he does not comment on pending lawsuits.

The complaint alleges that beginning in 2009, MDOC discriminated against female correctional officers on the basis of sex at its only prison for female inmates, Huron Valley, and it restricted multiple correctional officer positions on the basis of sex and without justification.

MDOC has a pattern or practice of denying the transfer requests of female correctional officers from the Ypsilanti prison to other MDOC prisons, while at the same time granting transfer requests by male correctional officers to move to other facilities, according to the lawsuit.

Both policies required female staff at Huron Valley to work excessive overtime at a cost to their health, the complaint says.

The lawsuit seeks court orders requiring the state and MDOC to stop discriminatory job assignment and transfer policies at Huron Valley, and requiring MDOC to develop and implement measures to prevent further discrimination.

It also seeks monetary damages to compensate female correctional officers harmed by the alleged discrimination.

Twenty-eight female correctional officers filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission challenging MDOC’s female-only job assignment and transfer policies.

The EEOC’s Detroit Field Office investigated the charges and found “reasonable cause” to believe that MDOC discriminated against these and other female correctional officers at Huron Valley on the basis of sex.

After failed efforts at conciliation, the EEOC referred the charges to Justice officials.