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Florida prison workers launch class-action sexual harassment suit

A group of female workers who say they are the target of repeated and unwanted sexual attention in the prison where they work have been granted class-action status. This comes on the heels of multiple complaints about sexual harassment within the prison workplace from dozens of female employees. They allege the Florida branch of the Bureau of Prisons has not done enough to protect their safety and rights.

According to the suit, female employees are regularly subjected to vulgar sexual advances and verbally abusive behavior by inmates on a daily basis. These assaults have culminated in many employees donning heavy outerwear in an effort to avoid attracting attention from inmates. Other behavior is even more lewd and has led some authorities to consider the environment hostile and unsafe for female employees. The class action certification is meant to address these glaring issues.

The support of the Justice Department in this ruling was not unequivocal. Strong arguments from the Bureau of Prisons made this issue divisive, and the class-action designation eventually awarded has been called a "close call" by Department insiders. The importance of the certification, however, cannot be denied. It means that the complaints of over 360 women are now being represented as a united front, pending further investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Employees of any stripe have a right to a safe work environment. Regardless whether they are working in a restaurant or a prison or elsewhere, sexual harassment is inappropriate and unacceptable. Florida employees seeking restitution for this sort of conduct may benefit from a comprehensive knowledge of state and federal statutes dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. They may be entitled to damage reparation if it is found that their legal rights were violated.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Women at Coleman prison win class-action lawsuit in harassment case," Michael Doyle, May 31, 2013

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