The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Sam Cochran today, claiming they “discriminated against current and former female corrections officers and all other similarly situated female employees on the basis of sex, in violation of Title VII, by subjecting them to a sexually hostile work environment.”
Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
The Mobile County Metro Jail is staffed by 73 percent females, according to the complaint, who are “routinely subjected to various forms of unwelcome, severe sexual harassment by male inmates.” The complaint provides graphic examples of physical and verbal harassment, noting male inmates “frequently expose their genitals, masturbate, and direct sexual slurs, sexual propositions, threats of sexual violence and sexually degrading comments towards female employees.”The complaint alleges that despite the employees’ numerous reports to MCSO supervisors objecting to the harassment, MCSO did not take the complaints seriously and failed to take prompt and effective action to remedy the harassing conduct.
The complaint names 12 specific female employees and details their experience with harassment. The employees allegedly complained about the environment “for years,” but dismissive comments from supervisors included “deal with it,” “put on your big girl pants,” “turn your head, don’t look,” and suggestions to tone down their physical appearance.
“The MCSO’s inmate disciplinary process is unregulated in its processing of complaints and is ineffective in addressing, deterring, and preventing inmate sexual harassment of female employees,” it says.
The complaint also names MCSO superiors who were allegedly derelict in their duties to discipline inmates and train officers. Sgt. Danny Rowe, a disciplinary hearing officer at the jail from August 2016 to June 2017, allegedly would not sustain masturbation charges unless a complainant provided a report including “graphic and detailed narratives of an inmate’s alleged masturbation, such as how many times the penis was stroked and whether the inmate ejaculated.”
Exhibitionist masturbation is known as “gunning” by corrections officers, and the MCSO allegedly held training on the topic in 2016. But according to the complaint, Security Capt. Sadie Stallworth’s training session focused on protecting the inmates rather than the officers. The complaint does not detail specific charges against Cochran, other than his supervisory role.
In a statement today, the DOJ said the 12 employees filed charges of sex discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the EEOC investigated the charges and found that there was a reasonable basis to believe that violations of Title VII had occurred. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts by the EEOC, the charges were referred by the EEOC to the Justice Department.
“Nobody deserves to be sexually harassed while on the job,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Civil Rights Division. “The behavior to which these female employees were subjected is appalling, and the County’s failure to take action to protect its employees from such conduct is inexcusable.”
Through the lawsuit, the United States seeks monetary relief for the affected female employees and injunctive relief to require MCSO to develop and implement policies that would prevent and remedy sex-based harassment in the future.
Sheriff Sam Cochran said he was reviewing the complaint with legal counsel and would provide a statement later in the week.
DOJ vs MCSO
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