Back in late 2018, the New York Times published an extensive piece, which laid out the many sexual harassment risks female correctional officers face, entitled “Hazing, Humiliation, Terror: Working While Female in Federal Prison.” The pervasiveness of the sexual harassment female correctional officers face is not something unique to those in the federal prison system. If you’re someone who suffered sexual harassment while working at a facility in New Jersey – be it federal or state – you can, with the aid of a skilled New Jersey sexual harassment lawyer, take your case to court and potentially recover substantial compensation via a judgment or settlement.
Based on some recent reports, it’s clear that female correctional officers in local jails here in New Jersey face similar horrors when it comes to sexual harassment perpetrated by their coworkers and supervisors as the female workers in the federal prisons do.
Back in December, the local government in Union County decided to settle a lawsuit brought by M.H., a Black female officer at the now-closed Union County Jail in Elizabeth. The 2019 complaint alleged that M.H.’s supervisor harassed her daily. Allegedly, the white male supervisor made inappropriate comments like asking M.H. to “test a mattress” with him and stating his romantic/sexual desire for Black women, tapinto.net reported.
After M.H. reported the harassment, the supervisor turned from harassing her to retaliating against her for speaking up, according to the complaint. The supervisor allegedly initiated a “personal vendetta” against the woman. This included being “hypercritical in supervising” M.H., launching an unapproved investigation against her, filing “numerous disciplinary charges against her,” and watching her every move on camera. A coworker informed M.H. that the supervisor “hates you and wants me to write you up.” The jail’s control center had recordings that captured the supervisor saying to write M.H. “up for everything. You don’t know what she did to me,” according to the complaint.
In the settlement of M.H.’s case, she received a $400,000 payment from the county and its insurer.
Sadly, M.H.’s story is far from unique. A year earlier and again in Union County, another female correctional officer reached a successful settlement of her own sexual harassment and retaliation case. Coworkers allegedly taunted the officer, W.S., by showing her phallic-shaped sex toys in a variety of colors and showing her pictures of the multi-colored sex toys contained on a cell phone.
After W.S. reported the harassment, the retaliation allegedly began. That retaliation included removing her as a control center officer and launching an investigation against her, according to the complaint.
W.S. received more than $110,000 in her settlement, according to tapinto.net.
From these stories, it is clear that sexual harassment and retaliation are significant issues inside New Jersey’s lockups. Here are some things you should keep in mind if you have endured similar conduct at your job, whether or not it was inside a correctional facility.
First, lots of different actions can potentially be actionable sexual harassment. It can include a demand for sex in exchange for some workplace benefit, but it can also be unwanted touching, sexually inappropriate comments and jokes, or leering/staring.
The key is to show that the conduct was severe or pervasive. Note that M.H.’s case laid out this element fairly clearly, alleging that the plaintiff suffered sexual harassment every day for more than a year, which would potentially amount to strong evidence of pervasive harassment.
What to Do About Retaliation You Endured for Opposing Sexual Harassment
Additionally, while speaking out against sexual harassment may come with some very real risks (even though it shouldn’t,) you can take additional action if that happens to you. If you suffered what’s called an “adverse employment action,” which can include a variety of things like termination, demotion, suspension, internal investigations and/or discipline, reduction of pay, reduction of benefits, negative performance reviews, etc., then you may have a claim for illegal retaliation.
You do not have to win your sexual harassment case to win your retaliation case. If you have sufficient proof to establish that you had a good-faith basis for speaking up regarding sexual harassment, and you suffered tangible harm at work because you took action, then that’s illegal retaliation for which you can recover compensation, even if the court decides that there was no sexual harassment in violation of the law.
No matter what some of your coworkers or supervisors may say, there is no workplace where you, as a woman, should have to put up with sexual harassment. If it has happened to you, don’t tolerate it. Instead, take action, and that action starts with contacting the experienced New Jersey hostile work environment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Our attorneys are here to be your partner in navigating the legal system and getting the positive outcome you deserve. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and find out how to put our team to work for you.