GEO Group to Pay $550,000 To Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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Class of Female Staffers Abused at Private Correctional Facilities, Federal and State Agencies Charged

PHOENIX - The GEO Group, Inc., operator of the Central Arizona Correctional Facility (CACF) and Arizona State Prison-Florence West Facility (Florence West) in Florence, Ariz., will pay $550,000 and furnish other relief pursuant to a consent decree to settle lawsuits for sexual harassment and retaliation filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Arizona Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General's Office (ACRD), the EEOC announced today.

The EEOC's and ACRD's allegations involved many other forms of sexual harassment and retaliation occurring in the years between 2006 and 2012. The EEOC and ACRD charged that the harassment included sexual assault, a male manager grabbing and pinching the breasts and crotch of a female correctional officer, and a male employee forcing a female employee onto a desk, shoving her legs apart, and kissing her. The EEOC and ACRD also alleged a wide variety of verbal harassment, including male officers asking female officers for sex, a male officer calling a female officer "bitch" and "f---ing bitch" daily, and supervisors and officers making sexually explicit comments to female officers. The EEOC and ACRD said that these comments included offensive remarks such as "All I want to see of you is the top of your head bobbing up and down while you are on your knees," and a supervisor frequently saying that women should be barefoot and pregnant.

The EEOC and ACRD also charged that GEO retaliated against female employees when they complained of the harassment. The EEOC and ACRD charged that when women complained or sought help from GEO, the company would discipline the women, force them to quit, fire them, or place them in unsafe conditions in the prison.

The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, 2:10-cv-02088 MHM, in September 2010, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. ACRD filed a similar suit, and the two lawsuits were consolidated under Case No. 2:10-cv-01995 SRB. After the district court dismissed claims on behalf of a class of women identified during the litigation and held that some of the allegations did not rise to the level of actionable harassment, the EEOC and ACRD appealed the district court's decision to the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings in a published opinion on March 14, 2016. The Ninth Circuit first held that the EEOC and ACRD had properly sought relief for women identified during litigation. (Arizona ex rel. Horne v. Geo Group, Inc., 816 F.3d 1189, 1200 [9th Cir. 2016]). The Ninth Circuit held that the EEOC and ACRD must be allowed to discover additional aggrieved individuals during litigation when they conciliate on behalf of a class. With regards to the dismissed harassment claim, the Ninth Circuit reversed because the cumulative effects such misconduct has on a woman -- such as unwanted physical contact, a male employee making gestures while talking dirty, officers using profanity, and officers saying that her bra set off the metal detector -- were enough to go to trial. Id. at 1206-07.

The consent decree resolving this case provides $550,000 for 16 women who had been dismissed from this case in 2012. GEO also must send letters of regret to the women and provide employment references for them. In addition, GEO will review its equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies, ensure that all complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation are immediately and thoroughly investigated by a neutral employee, and ensure that the complainant is informed of the results of the investigation. GEO is also required to designate certain alleged harassers as ineligible for rehire, post notices of the consent decree in its Florence facilities, conduct anti-discrimination training, and include EEO compliance when evaluating its managers.

"Sexual harassment has no place in the work environment," said EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. "This kind of misconduct is degrading and inexcusable and violates federal anti-discrimination laws. In the June 2016 Workplace Report by Acting Chair Lipnic and Commissioner Feldblum, the Select Task Force on the Study of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace identified several studies that demonstrated that sexually harassed women can experience depression, stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. We are proud of these women for standing up and helping to end this sexually hostile work environment."

EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle added, "Retaliation occurs all too often when employees complain about harassment and discrimination. In fact, over 45 percent of all charges the EEOC receives allege retaliation. Retaliation can reinforce a hostile work environment by discouraging workers from reporting harassment and encouraging harassers to continue their mistreatment of other employees. Employers must take note and take steps to ensure that employees who complain about discrimination are not retaliated against either."

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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