The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the state of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) are engaged in a pattern or practice of sex-based employment discrimination against female correctional officers in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion. The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, alleges that Michigan and MDOC discriminated against female employees assigned to MDOC’s Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (Huron Valley) by implementing an overly broad female-only assignment policy and by unnecessarily denying requests by female employees for transfers, in violation of Title VII.
“Employers may not unduly lock workers into or out of a job because of their sex,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Qualified male and female correctional officers deserve equal opportunities to compete for job assignments and transfers without unnecessary barriers.”
The complaint alleges that beginning in 2009, MDOC discriminated against female correctional officers on the basis of sex at its only prison for female inmates, Huron Valley. The complaint further alleges that MDOC restricted multiple correctional officer positions on the basis of sex and without justification, in violation of Title VII. The complaint also alleges that MDOC has a pattern or practice of denying the transfer requests of female correctional officers from Huron Valley to other MDOC prisons, while at the same time granting transfer requests by male correctional officers to move to other facilities. Both policies required female employees at Huron Valley to work excessive overtime hours at a cost to their health.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to stop discriminatory job assignment and transfer policies at Huron Valley and to order MDOC to develop and implement lawful and effective measures to prevent further discrimination. The remedial relief sought by this lawsuit also includes monetary damages as compensation for those female correctional officers who were harmed by the alleged discrimination.
“The Michigan Department of Corrections’ policy unnecessarily limits job opportunities for its female employees at the Huron Valley Correctional Facility,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan. “We are not challenging positions where it makes sense to assign only female officers, but only those positions that could reasonably be filled by men or women. By limiting positions that are not justifiably related to inmate privacy to women officers, MDOC created staffing limitations that harm female employees by forcing them to work overtime and preventing them from transferring to other facilities that are closer to their homes, offer more favorable conditions or provide promotional opportunities.”
Twenty-eight female correctional officers filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) challenging MDOC’s female-only job assignment and transfer policies. The EEOC’s Detroit Field Office, in the Indianapolis District, investigated the charges and found reasonable cause to believe that MDOC discriminated against these female correctional officers and other female correctional officers employed at Huron Valley on the basis of sex. After unsuccessful efforts at conciliation, the EEOC referred the charges to the Justice Department.
“Making decisions on job assignments and transfers based on a person’s sex violates federal law and is completely unacceptable,” said Director Gail Cober of the EEOC’s Detroit Field Office. “The EEOC will continue to work in partnership with the DOJ to ensure that public employers follow the law and we will continue to fight for victims of sex discrimination to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity in the workplace.”
The case was brought by Trial Attorneys Carol Wong, Lisa Wilson Edwards and Taryn Wilgus Null of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Karpinen of the Eastern District of Michigan. Enforcement of federal employment discrimination laws is a top priority for the Justice Department. Additional information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the Civil Rights Division’s website at www.justice.gov/crt.