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California corrections department sued for sexual harassment

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division recently announced it has filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, on behalf of a cook who complains that his female co-worker engaged in egregious sexual harassment against him and that the CDCR, in violation of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and its own policies, refused to stop her.

According to the DOJ, after being rebuffed by his CDCR supervisors, initially filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which referred it to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In an unusual move, the EEOC then referred the case for prosecution by the Justice Department after finding that there was good cause to believe the man’s sexual harassment complaint.

The man claims that a female co-worker made frequent, unwelcome sexual advances toward him for more than a year in 2008 and 2009. During that time, she continually made “profane and suggestive” comments, touched him inappropriately and, when her unwanted advances were rebuffed, escalated the situation by forcing her hand down the plaintiff’s pants and striking him on the head.

Nevertheless, his supervisors were evidently not interested in hearing about those complaints. Despite its own policy requiring supervisors to take timely steps to stop reported sexual harassment and/or discipline those responsible as soon as they become aware of the problem, the CDCR took no action in response to his numerous complaints. The alleged sexual harassment only ended when the female co-worker was placed on administrative leave for reasons unrelated to the complaint.

The CDCR’s failure to take action prompted the Department of Justice to seek, though its lawsuit, an order from a judge mandating that the prisons develop new policies that will actually work. By law, the CDCR is required to protect all employees, regardless of gender, from sexual harassment and discrimination. The lawsuit also seeks monetary compensation for the victim.

“Employees, regardless of their sex, have the right to work in an environment that is free from sexual harassment,” said the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, which plans to work vigorously to enforce that right.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs press release, "Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for Sex Discrimination," July 11, 2013

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