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Female workers at prisons sue over claims of sexual harassment

TALLAHASSEE — More than 100 female employees have filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections, alleging they were subject to constant sexual harassment from male inmates.

The suit comes on the heels of recent jury awards of about $1.6 million for other female workers who said they faced the same treatment.

In both cases, the prison employees, mostly nurses, said while they made their rounds, male inmates used graphic language and masturbated toward them.

"The conduct is so hostile, notorious and commonplace that it is referred to by prison staff and inmates alike as 'gunning,' " reads the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.

It alleges a violation of the 111 current and former employees' right to be free from sexual discrimination and harassment under the Civil Rights Act.

Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil said Thursday that he was unaware of the suit but familiar with the allegations.

"We understand these incidents … do occur, but it's my belief we are doing and have been doing everything we can that's reasonable to make sure we protect the women who work in our institutions," he said.

McNeil said this lawsuit is based on inmate behavior.

"We are housing some 100,000 inmates who in many instances are the worst of the worst in our society," he said.

The Corrections Department changed its rules last year to make the intentional exposing of genitals or masturbating by an inmate subject to 60 days in disciplinary confinement and the loss of 90 days of gain time.

Female workers at prisons sue over claims of sexual harassment 03/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:53pm]
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