The State of Michigan is set to pay $750,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of female officers at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. The lawsuit, filed in 2016, alleges that the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) discriminates against female officers, forcing them to work long hours and excessive overtime.
A spokesperson for the Michigan DOC, Chris Gautz, said the details of the settlement, which was reached last month, are as follows: The department will pay $750,000 to 700 female officers who have worked at the prison since 2009; A freeze will be lifted that kept female officers from transferring to other facilities; The department would also examine current and new staff positions to determine whether jobs could be made open to male officers instead of females.
Corrections Officer Amber Dotson previously stated the repeated double shifts forced on her and her fellow officers was a safety threat. “It’s very stressful, very tiring — physically, mentally,” Dotson said. “It really wears you out.” Other female officers left because they couldn’t stand the repeated forced overtime. Dotson is the first officer to go on the record while still on the job. She explained she regularly works twelve hours or more per shift. Her base salary is $52,000 a year, but she was already paid $44,000 by the end of July because of overtime.
The Michigan Corrections Organization union president, Byron Osborn, added, “MCO leaders hope this settlement brings some relief to the women corrections officers at WHV, who have sacrificed and worked 16-hour days to keep the prison running as safely and smoothly as they can.” He said, “The settlement has not been shared with MCO, so it would be difficult for us to comment on any details. We’ll be meeting with the…administration as they work to implement the settlement, and we’ll keep corrections officers informed as the process unfolds.”
In its lawsuit, the Justice Department called the DOC’s policy of allowing only female corrections officers in certain jobs far too broad, although the DOC argued the prison it has maintained this structure to prevent sexual abuse. The Huron Valley prison, years ago, staffed male officers who sexually assaulted inmates.
The Justice Department also said its denial of transfers has been unlawful and discriminatory, and the policies “required female employees at Huron Valley to work excessive overtime hours at a cost to their health.” The employees were unable to keep up with job requirements, including being alert and able to tend to emergency situations.
The DOC was accused of destroying pertinent employment records in 2017. The destruction of the records happened after the department was put on notice that such documents should be preserved and “severely prejudices” the federal agency’s ability to prove its case, according to one filing. The DOC strongly denied the allegations, and no sanctions had been imposed by the court at the time of settlement.
The Huron Valley prison houses 2,200 female inmates of all criminal backgrounds and security levels. Inmates have said the facility is overcrowded, with storage areas and day rooms converted to cells in order to accommodate the current capacity.