ROCKLAND — A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of a corrections officer, who claims she endured a hostile work environment both because of her gender and sexual orientation while working at the Maine State Prison and Bolduc Correctional Facility.

The lawsuit — filed July 12 in U.S. District Court in Bangor — comes six months after the Maine Human Rights Commission voted 2-1 at its Jan. 11 meeting that there were reasonable grounds to believe the Maine Corrections department created a hostile work environment and treated her differently because she was a woman and a lesbian.

The lawsuit details how the woman, a Rockland resident, was a frequent recipient of unwanted sexual overtures from male officers, including officers who sent photos of their genitalia on Snapchat, and who pressured her to send nude photos of herself in return.

The woman and other female officers also overheard male officers making inappropriate comments about having sex with female officers and talking about competing to see who could sleep with a new female officer first.

“This refusal of her male coworkers and supervisors to accept (the woman’s) sexual orientation is consistent with the workplace culture of treating women COs as sexual objects and the traditional ideology that true lesbians are unlikely to exist because women cannot resist sexual attraction
to men,” the lawsuit stated.

The woman is seeking punitive damages, lost wages and civil rights training for the next two years for staff.

“From almost the beginning of her employment she was subjected to comments from male coworkers about their low opinion of women working in the prison,” the report from Human Rights investigator Kit Thomson Crossman stated.

The female corrections officer began working in the prison February 2017. She filed the complaint with the Human Rights Commission in April 2019. She currently works at the Bolduc facility.

The investigator said the woman was asked if she chose the job “for a lawsuit or to fall in love.” The female corrections officer was also told by a male corrections officer that female staff at the prison had a reputation for getting in trouble with prisoners.

She was frequently ordered by a male guard to work in a pod, where prisoners told her they were in love with her, even though a sergeant previously pulled her out of that pod for that reason.

“The sex-based comments were pervasive, and it appears that the attitudes of her coworkers led to Complainant being disciplined,” the investigator found.

“For example, within a week of a disagreement with three male coworkers, at least one of whom made comments disparaging women working with male prisoners, those male coworkers reported Complainant for alleged over-familiarity with a prisoner after listening in on her conversations with the prisoner.

“Respondent knew or should have known about the harassment, and did nothing to stop it; instead, Respondent contributed to the hostile environment by disciplining Complainant more harshly than her male coworkers,” according to the investigator’s findings.

“Neither party asserts that the Complainant exercised perfect or even good judgment at every moment, or disputes that her conduct did sometimes violate DOC policy. However, the discipline issued to Complainant, for infractions for which her male colleagues received no or lesser discipline, and the general atmosphere at the prison support Complainant’s allegation that she was discriminated against based on her sex,” the investigator concluded.

The female guard was harassed by a former prisoner, according to the investigator. The guard accessed the former prisoner’s contact information in the prison’s computer system so she could contact him to tell him to stop stalking her.

The prison administration found she violated the Department of Correction’s policy for going into the computer system. She was given a two-week unpaid suspension.

The woman is represented by attorneys David Webbert, Shelby Leighton and Valerie Wicks of Augusta.

“The Department of Corrections responded July 14 to an email request for comment.

“The Department is and continues to be committed to ensuring that all employees are treated appropriately and with respect, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, nationality, or creed. Behavior otherwise is not acceptable,” stated the response.

“The Maine Department of Corrections is not able to comment on pending litigation,” the statement concluded.