Justice Department Settles Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Alleging Disparate Treatment Against Female Correctional Officers by the Michigan Department of Corrections


The Justice Department today announced that it has reached a settlement, through a court-supervised settlement agreement, with the State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to resolve a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by the United States of America.

The settlement agreement, filed today in federal district court in Detroit, resolves allegations that the defendants have engaged in two unlawful employment practices that discriminate against female correctional officers at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) because of sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The United States’ complaint, filed on June 13, 2016, alleged that the defendants violated Title VII by classifying four job assignments as female-only and by denying female correctional officers job transfers.

The lawsuit is based on charges of sex discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Detroit Area Office by 28 female correctional officers who work or worked at WHV. The EEOC investigated the charges and found that there was a reasonable basis to believe that violations of Title VII had occurred. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts by the EEOC, the charges were referred by the EEOC to the Department of Justice.

“The female correctional officers employed by the Michigan Department of Corrections will finally be able to work under conditions that are fair and consistent with equal employment opportunity principles,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement agreement is an important first step in eliminating the sex discrimination that has so hampered the workplace for female correctional officers currently assigned to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which is subject to court approval, Defendants will pay $750,000 in compensatory damages to eligible female correctional officers who worked at WHV between 2009 and the present, including those who filed charges with the EEOC. Additionally, the State and MDOC will take a number of actions to remedy the alleged discrimination, including efforts to improve the recruitment and retention of female correctional officers at WHV, providing for a lift of the transfer freeze at WHV when the staffing level of female correctional officers reaches a certain level, allowing for a specific number of female correctional officers to transfer out of WHV to other MDOC facilities, and implementing a Title VII-compliant review process for female-only assignments.

“We must fight barriers to equal employment for women at all levels,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Saima S. Mohsin of the Eastern District of Michigan. “In those rare circumstances where gender is a bona fide occupational qualification, employers must ensure that it is narrowly applied and does not impose more onerous working conditions on women. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to continuing its role as a staunch defender of equality.”  

In a joint filing today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the Justice Department, along with the State of Michigan and MDOC, moved for a court order provisionally approving the terms of the settlement agreement. The motion also asks the court to schedule a fairness hearing to provide an opportunity for individuals potentially affected by the proposed agreement to provide comments on the terms of the settlement.

The case was brought by Senior Trial Attorneys Taryn Wilgus Null, Nadia Said, and Jennifer Swedish of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section, as well as Susan K. DeClercq of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. The full and fair enforcement of Title VII is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division and the jurisdiction of the Employment Litigation Section is available on its websites at www.justice.gov/crt/ and https://www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section.

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