GEO Group Abused Female Staffers at Correctional Facilities, EEOC Alleges
PHOENIX — GEO Group, Inc. discriminated against female prison employees by subjecting them to physical and verbal harassment and retaliation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today in federal court. GEO operates and manages two prison facilities in Florence, Ariz., where the EEOC said the sex discrimination occurred.
According to the EEOC’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, CIV2:10-cv-02088 MHM, Alice Hancock and a class of female employees were sexually harassed at the Arizona State Prison-Florence West Facility and the Central Arizona Correctional Facility in Florence, Ariz.; both entities were managed by GEO under contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections. The physical sexual harassment alleged included an incident where a male GEO manager grabbed and pinched the breasts and crotch of a female correctional officer. Also, the EEOC claimed that at least one female employee was forced onto a desk, where a male GEO employee shoved apart her legs and kissed her. The complaint further charged that the female employees were subjected to retaliation when they reported or otherwise sought help from GEO management.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, protects workers from discrimination based upon gender, including sexual harassment. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The lawsuit seeks lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for the harassment victims, as well as appropriate injunctive relief to prevent discriminatory practices in the future.
A similar suit has already been filed by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, the agency that conducted the administrative investigation in this case. The EEOC is authorized by statute to obtain compensatory and punitive damages that are not available under Arizona state law.
“Employers should be aware that when they know discrimination, including sexual harassment, is happening in their workplaces, they must act immediately and effectively to stop it,” said EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Andrea Baran. “Failing to do so violates the civil rights of its employees and will surely lead to litigation.”
About the dual agency litigation, EEOC Trial Attorney Diana Chen said, “The Arizona Attorney General’s Office did a remarkable and thorough investigation in this case, which revealed a very dangerous work environment for GEO’s female employees. I look forward to collaborating with our counterparts at the AG’s office throughout the course of these two cases.”
EEOC Acting District Director Rayford O. Irvin added, “ Employers have a responsibility to maintain an environment free of sexual harassment and gender-based hostility. The EEOC will continue its strong commitment to ending sex discrimination and harassment.”
The EEOC Phoenix District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, with offices in Albuquerque and Denver.
GEO is a multi-national provider of government-outsourced services specializing in the management of correctional, detention and mental health and residential facilities in North America, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.