A settlement has been reached between the Federal Bureau of Prisons and female workers who claim they were “sexually harassed by prisoners” at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex near Orlando, Florida. Last Friday, an administrative judge signed off on the settlement that could amount to $20 million to compensate the female workers for “emotional distress and physical harm as well as reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses resulting from harassment from male inmates.” So what exactly happened?
According to a complaint filed in 2013, a group of female workers claimed that “male inmates had groped them, threatened them with sexual violence and masturbated in front of them.” The complaint also accused the prisons bureau of knowing what was going on, though did very little to “prevent or minimize” the harassment.
Fortunately for the female workers, part of the settlement will require prison staff to “identify inmates who are harassing female workers and those inmates could lose privileges, such as access to television.” Additionally, “signs will be placed on inmate televisions saying sexual harassment won’t be tolerated, and inmates who repeatedly harass female staffers will be referred to psychology services.” Other measures will also be taken, like replacing inmate uniforms with ones that don’t have pockets “to minimize sexual behavior and the wardens will hold town hall meetings to discuss the prohibition on sexual harassment.”
But how will the $20 million settlement be split up among the group of female workers that stepped forward about the harassment? For starters, the workers will only be entitled to the $20 million if “there are at least 350 workers who make claims.” What if 350 don’t step forward? Well, according to the agreement, “the settlement fund will be reduced by $40,000 for each worker that falls short of that number.” The money will be paid out based on a number of factors, like the “amount of time each worker has worked in Coleman, the harm suffered, the amount and type of harassment suffered and the efforts she made to raise the problems with management.”
So far the terms of the settlement have been well received, with Joy Brockman, an administrative judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the changes are “impressive by any standard, and the parties are to be commended for their willingness to work on such an elaborate plan to make improvements to the Coleman prison system.” She added that the suggested changes display “intent to make real changes for the better at the Agency.”