GEO in Arizona to Pay $550K to Settle Sex Harassment and Retaliation Suit
The GEO Group Inc., operator of the Central Arizona Correctional Facility and Arizona State Prison-Florence West Facility in Florence, will pay $550,000 and furnish other relief to settle lawsuits for sexual harassment and retaliation filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Arizona Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office.
The EEOC’s and ACRD’s allegations involved many other forms of sexual harassment and retaliation occurring 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 degrading names daily, and supervisors and officers making sexually explicit comments to female officers.
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 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. 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.
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 were enough to go to trial.
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 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.
The EEOC’s Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction for Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and part of New Mexico.
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