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Lesbian Couple Sues Michigan Prison System for Discrimination, Harassment

— March 12, 2020

Both women spent years working for the Department of Corrections. In that time, they were passed over for promotions, insulted, and disciplined for trivial infractions.

A lesbian couple who spent decades working for the Michigan prison system have filed a lawsuit against it, claiming corrections officials did nothing to protect them from workplace harassment.

According to, attorneys representing Michelle Wood and Lorette Smith filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections in Wayne County Circuit Court on Monday. The six-count complaint alleges that the department violated the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, as well as the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

[note: different sources provided different spellings of Michelle’s surname. “Wood” has been used subsequent to The Detroit Free Press’s reporting]

Both statutes, adds, prohibit workplace discrimination and retaliation on grounds of gender or sexual orientation.

LGBTQ flag. Image via Quote Catalog, Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

Wood and Smith say they were harassed both for being women and for being in a same-sex relationship.

“What happened to Michelle and Loretta is not an isolated event,” attorney Jonathon Marko said in a written statement. “And in today’s day-and-age [sic] there should be no tolerance of prejudice or discrimination in our state government, whether you are gay or straight, black or white, man or woman, whatever. Hate has no place in our state.”

Wood, says, worked with the MDOC for about 25 years. She was transferred in 2000 from the Huron Valley Facility to the Thumb Correctional Facility; Smith joined her at Thumb in 2015.

After Smith arrived at Thumb, the couple said they were repeatedly victimized by their predominately white, heterosexual co-workers.

“[Wood] has, on countless occasions, been referred to as a ‘dyke’ [..] has been told that ‘Stanley Steamer has nothing on you,’ and has had a beaver and a taco put as the desktop background on her computer,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint add that Wood and Smith “could not even converse or eat lunch together, as their heterosexual counterparts would, without judgment, looks, and comments from others.”

Wood also says she was constantly cited for disciplinary infractions she had no knowledge of committing; she was also passed over for promotions she should have qualified for, with one supervisor telling her she had to learn how to “play the game.”

The Detroit Free Press recalls several of Wood’s so-called violations, many of which appear contrived or trivial. In 2017, for instance, she received complaints about an eyeglass case she’d been carrying for years. And in 2018, she was disciplined for walking one of the dogs which inmates train to assist disabled veterans.

In either case, the Free Press says, Wood was investigated for supposed infractions her heterosexual colleagues partook in without consequence.


Gay couple working in Michigan prison sue over discrimination

Lesbian couple sues Michigan prison system for workplace discrimination

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