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Commission rules prison created hostile environment for female guard

Feb 15, 2021

Warren — The Maine Department of Corrections and Maine State Prison discriminated against a female corrections officer based on her gender, the Maine Human Rights Commission ruled.

The Commission voted 2-1 at its Jan. 11 meeting that there were reasonable grounds to believe the Corrections department and Maine State Prison created a hostile work environment and treated her differently because she was a woman.

"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 in February 2017. She filed the complaint with the Human Rights Commission in April 2019.

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 has been 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.

Following the vote by the Jan. 11 vote of the Human Rights Commission, the Commission will try to have the two sides reach a settlement. If not, the matter could go to court.

Emails were sent Feb. 14 to the Maine Attorney General's Office, which represented the Corrections department and prison. The woman was represented by attorneys Shelby Leighton and Valerie Wicks.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: johanna stadler | Feb 15, 2021 15:12

Nothing's changed... they drove me out in 1982 after my sgt said I would be the first woman to make rank.  THey don't want women in there because they can't do the full job, meaning they can't strip search.  Nothing is going to change until you start punishing those who are doing it. I feel for any woman working in this terribly broken and misogynistic system.

Posted by: amelia ronco | Feb 15, 2021 10:48

Not the first time this has happened and there will be no changes made in this system.

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