On June 27, 2000 a former female corrections officer at Pelican Bay State Prison filed a Title VII sexual harassment lawsuit in the U.S. District Court California Northern District against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [CDCR] and several Pelican Bay officials. Plaintiff alleged that the CDCR and Pelican Bay failed to remedy the sexually hostile environment created by prison inmates, which included the pervasive practice of inmate exhibitionist masturbation directed at female officers, and then retaliated against and terminated her on account of her repeated complaints. Plaintiff's complaint stated claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and sought compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.
On March 25, 2002, the District Court (Thelton E. Henderson) granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The surviving claims included: (1) the Title VII hostile work environment claim against the CDCR, (2) the Title VII retaliation claim against the CDCR based upon adverse employment actions not including Freitag's termination, and (3) the § 1983 claim that the individual defendants retaliated against Freitag in violation of her First Amendment rights. The case proceeded to jury trial in March 2003.
At trial, plaintiff's case-in chief included testimony from fellow correctional officers and from William Katsaris, an expert on prison administration. The jury returned a unanimous verdict on April 3, 2003, finding the CDCR liable under Title VII for sexual harassment and retaliation, and the individual Pelican Bay officials liable under §1983 for retaliation in violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. The jury awarded plaintiff $500,000 in economic damages, $100,000 in noneconomic damages, and $100 in punitive damages against each individual defendant.
On May 15, 2003, plaintiff moved to amend the judgment to include permanent injunctive relief. The District Court granted her motion in part and entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the CDCR from engaging in unlawful employment practices at Pelican Bay State, including sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment, sexual discrimination or retaliation. The Court referred the matter to Special Master John Hagar to monitor compliance and to develop a remedial plan. The Court also awarded plaintiff's attorneys' fees. Defendants appealed.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt) affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded in part. Freitag v. Ayers, 468 F.3d 528 (9th Cir. 2006). It affirmed the CDCR's liability under Title VII, but remanded the First Amendment retaliation claim in light of the intervening Supreme Court decision Garcetti v. Ceballos, 126 S.Ct. 1951, 164 L.Ed.2d 689 (2006). The judgment against one individual defendant was reversed due to insufficient evidence.
As of the date of this summary, the case remained active in the District Court, with motions pending regarding the issues on remand.Dan Dalton - 05/17/2007