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Justice Department, State of Michigan Settle Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Involving Female Correctional Officers


— February 21, 2021

The State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) recently agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department over sex discrimination allegations.


A settlement was recently announced involving the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) that brings an end to a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department. The settlement agreement, which was filed in federal district court in Detroit, will resolve the allegations that the defendants “engaged in two unlawful employment practices that discriminated against female correctional officers at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) because of sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, MI, which houses the state’s Supreme Court. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user: Subterranean. (CCA-BY-3.0).

For those who don’t know, Title VII is a federal law designed to prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The Justice Department’s complaint, which was filed back on June 13, 2016, argued the “defendants violated Title VII by classifying four job assignments as female-only and by denying female correctional officers job transfers.”

The suit itself was filed in response to charges of sex discrimination that were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Detroit Area Office. The charges were filed by 28 female correctional officers who either work or previously worked at WHV. Upon investigating the claims, the EEOC determined “there was a reasonable basis to believe that violations of Title VII had occurred.” From there, the EEOC attempted to reach a solution through its conciliation process, but those efforts failed and the lawsuit was filed.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said:

“The female correctional officers employed by the Michigan Department of Corrections will finally be able to work under conditions that are fair and consistent with equal employment opportunity principles…This settlement agreement is an important first step in eliminating the sex discrimination that has so hampered the workplace for female correctional officers currently assigned to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.”

As part of the settlement agreement, the defendants will have to pay $750,000 in “compensatory damages to eligible female correctional officers who worked at WHV between 2009 and the present, including those who filed charges with the EEOC.” On top of that, the State and MDOC must take steps to remedy the alleged discrimination, including the following:

“Efforts to improve the recruitment and retention of female correctional officers at WHV, providing for a lift of the transfer freeze at WHV when the staffing level of female correctional officers reaches a certain level, allowing for a specific number of female correctional officers to transfer out of WHV to other MDOC facilities, and implementing a Title VII-compliant review process for female-only assignments.”

When commenting on the matter, Acting U.S. Attorney Saima S. Mohsin of the Eastern District of Michigan said:

“We must fight barriers to equal employment for women at all levels…In those rare circumstances where gender is a bona fide occupational qualification, employers must ensure that it is narrowly applied and does not impose more onerous working conditions on women. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to continuing its role as a staunch defender of equality.”  

Sources:

Workplace discrimination lawsuit against Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility reaches settlement

Justice Department Settles Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Alleging Disparate Treatment Against Female Correctional Officers by the Michigan Department of Corrections

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