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Florida prison workers win class-action status in harassment case

One of the common misconceptions about sexual harassment is that it should be tolerated in certain workplaces. Employers are sometimes of this mindset in male-dominated industries. They might think that if a woman chooses to work in a male-dominated workplace, she should accept that she might be subject to unwanted sexually suggestive comments or vulgar conversations. This, however, is not true. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment in every industry.

A good example of this principle stems from Coleman, Florida. A number of female employees of the federal prison complex in Coleman have complained that they are sexually harassed by inmates and late last month the U.S. Justice Department gave current and former female employees of the prison system class-action status. 

The decision to give the women class-action status is very significant because it affirms that employers are duty-bound to address and prevent sexual harassment in any industry--even in a men's penitentiary.

The women who are leading this lawsuit have reported experiencing very disturbing forms of sexual harassment from inmates on an almost daily basis. They have reported public masturbation, rape threats and groping, among other disturbing forms of behavior that should not be tolerated.

The lawsuit claims that female employees have filed complaints, but the federal Bureau of Prisons has failed to intervene. In some cases, supervisors have even thrown out complaints, according to the lawsuit.

One of the employees, who formerly worked at a federal prison facility in Miami, said that such treatment was very rare in Miami because it was not tolerated.

In a prison setting, it may not be possible to completely eradicate sexual harassment that is coming from inmates, but it is very likely that there are ways to address it and keep it at an absolute minimum.

Employers are required to address and put a stop to sexual harassment when they learn that it is occurring.

The lawyer for the women in this case explained to the McClatchy News Service: "We have to make sure inmates aren't running out of control...and we have to make sure the Bureau of Prisons takes care of its officers."

Source: McClatchy Washington Bureau, "Women workers at Florida prison win class-action status in sexual harassment case," Michael Doyle, May 29, 2013

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