Prison guards re­ceive ha­rass­ment set­tle­ment

Pri­vate com­pany set­tles 2006-12 Florence in­ci­dents

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Den­nis Wag­ner

An Ari­zona prison com­pany will pay 16 for­mer guards a com­bined $550,000 to set­tle a law­suit al­leg­ing fe­male em­ploy­ees were sub­jected to kiss­ing, pinch­ing, lewd propo­si­tions and other abuses at the Cen­tral Ari­zona Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity and the Ari­zona State Prison West Fa­cil­ity in Florence.

An Ari­zona prison com­pany will pay 16 for­mer guards a com­bined $550,000 to set­tle a law­suit al­leg­ing that fe­male em­ploy­ees were for years sub­jected to kiss­ing, pinch­ing, lewd propo­si­tions and other abuses at two cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties in Florence.

GEO Group Inc. agreed Monday to that fi­nan­cial pay­off, as well as mul­ti­ple re­forms, in a con­sent de­cree end­ing a fed­eral law­suit filed on be­half of the women by the U.S. Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion and the Ari­zona At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice.

Un­der con­tracts with the state, Florida-based GEO Group over­sees Cen­tral Ari­zona Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity and the Ari­zona State Prison West Fa­cil­ity, both in Florence, where the mis­con­duct oc­curred. GEO also op­er­ates pris­ons in Phoenix and King­man, for a com­bined to­tal of about 5,800 in­mates.

The ha­rass­ment and reprisal charges cov­ered a pe­riod from 2006 to 2012.

On Monday, GEO Group de­clared “zero tol­er­ance” for sex­ual ha­rass­ment in all its fa­cil­i­ties. “We be­lieve that the range of in­di­vid­ual set­tle­ments speaks to the na­ture of the in­di­vid­ual claims,” the com­pany added in a news re­lease. “The claims in­cluded in the law­suit took place…6-12 years ago, and no such claims have arisen since. As a re­sult of the set­tle­ment, The GEO Group has im­ple­mented ad­di­tional mea­sures in­clud­ing en­hanced train­ing, re­port­ing, and mon­i­tor­ing.”

Court fil­ings de­scribed a work­place where male cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers and su­per­vi­sors preyed on fe­male col­leagues with im­punity. Ac­cord­ing to

an EEOC news re­lease, one of the men forced a woman down, spread her legs and kissed her, while others pinched breasts and grabbed crotches. In addition, male guards used scur­rilous lan­guage to dis­par­age fe­males or re­quest sex acts.

The EEOC said women who sought help or filed com­plaints were tar­geted for reprisal that in­cluded ter­mi­na­tion, dis­ci­pline and place­ment in un­safe job as­sign­ments.

“Sex­ual ha­rass­ment has no place in the work en­vi­ron­ment,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, the EEOC re­gional at­tor­ney in Phoenix. “This kind of mis­con­duct is de­grad­ing and in­ex­e­cus­able … We are proud of these women for stand­ing up and help­ing to end this sex­u­ally hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment.”

Un­der terms of the de­cree, GEO Group agreed to send let­ters of re­gret to the 16 women and pro­vide em­ploy­ment ref­er­ences for them. In addition, the com­pany will re­view ha­rass­ment poli­cies.

In 2010, two law­suits were filed at the U.S. Dis­trict Court in Phoenix, and later merged. Af­ter a judge dis­missed the com­plaints, the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals re­versed that de­ci­sion in 2016, lead­ing to ne­go­ti­a­tions and the set­tle­ment.

In 2013, GEO Group paid a $140,000 set­tle­ment to two other Florence em­ploy­ees who lodged sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaints.

In re­sponse to Monday’s set­tle­ment, the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions is­sued a dec­la­ra­tion that pri­vate prison op­er­a­tors are re­quired and ex­pected to up­hold agency poli­cies against work­place ha­rass­ment, dis­crim­i­na­tion and re­tal­i­a­tion.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion two years ago found that, from 2009 to 2014, the depart­ment paid $2.55 mil­lion to set­tle the ha­rass­ment and other work­place-dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints — more than any other state agency.

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