Prison company to pay Arizona female guards $550K in sex harassment suit
Allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore have prompted some to ask why many cases of sexual assault aren’t reported. Wochit
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 and ensure complaints are properly investigated. It also will conduct anti-discrimination training and designate some harassers as ineligible for rehire.
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 Arizona Republic 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.