Allegations of sexual abuse and mistreatment of female prisoners have been frequently made against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), especially during the 1990s. The MDOC faced harsh public criticism and two high-profile lawsuits involving sexual misconduct claims of female inmates in that period: Nunn v. Michigan Department of Corrections by a group of female inmates in 1996, and United States v. Michigan (the USA Lawsuit) by the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice in 1997, linked below (Clearinghouse codes: PC-MI-0017
). In response, the MDOC barred male employees from working in certain positions at its female correctional facilities, and made a number of the Correctional Officer (CO) and Residential Unit Officer (RUO) positions in housing, segregation, and intake units at those facilities open to female only.
On July 12, 2000, several corrections officers, both males and females, from three female correctional facilities filed a lawsuit against the MDOC and its director, in both his official and individual capacities, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. They brought this class action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state laws, on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated corrections officers and related employees employed by the MDOC who had been or would be adversely affected by the gender-based assignments at the state female correctional facilities.
The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, alleged that the gender-specific assignments constituted sex discrimination, in violation of their rights under Title VII, the Equal Protection Clause, and state laws. They sought declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief. The plaintiffs amended their complaint on September 27, 2000.
On September 28, 2000, the District Court (Judge Avern Cohn) issued a temporary restraining order, which prevented the MDOC and the director from making gender-specific assignments to allow only female staff to hold the CO and RUO positions in housing, segregation, and intake units at the three facilities where the named plaintiffs worked. The specific order is not available, but it is fully outlined in the defendants' February 25, 2002 Second Motion for Clarification or Modification of Temporary Restraining Order and the order the Court issued in response on March 11, 2002.
On October 13, 2000, the Court granted a motion for intervention filed by a group of female inmates, composed of the certified class from the Nunn Lawsuit and the certified class in Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections, linked below (Clearinghouse codes: PC-MI-0021
). The Neal lawsuit is another class action by female inmates against the MDOC for sexual misconduct by male staff. These two classes of female inmates joined this action as intervenor-defendants.
The case went to a bench trial from February 13, 2001 to March 7, 2001. On July 11, 2002, the Court entered a decision and a declaratory judgment in the plaintiffs' favor. Everson v. Michigan Dep't of Corr., 222 F. Supp. 2d 864 (E.D. Mich. 2002)
. The Court declared that the implementation of the gender-based assignments violated Title VII and state laws. Judge Cohn reasoned that the policy would have an adverse employment effect on the plaintiffs and that gender was not a bona fide occupational qualification in this case.
On August 8, 2002, the Court entered a final judgment, turning the temporary restraining order to a permanent injunction. Judge Cohn noted that the banning of the gender-based assignments, which designated certain positions to female staff only, did not prohibit the MDOC from making gender-specific task assignments. He further dismissed the plaintiffs' equal protection claim filed against the director with prejudice.
The female inmates and the MDOC appealed the decision to the 6th Circuit. On December 3, 2004, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's decision on both the Title VII and state law claims, in an opinion by Judge John M. Rogers, and remanded to dismiss the lawsuit. Everson v. Michigan Dep't of Corr., 391 F.3d 737 (6th Cir. 2004)
. The Court found that gender was a bona fide occupational qualification for the positions at issues in this case.
The opinion began with a detailed history of the sexual misconduct problem at the MDOC's female correctional facilities and the MDOC's subsequent efforts to cure the defect before its implementation of the gender-specific assignment policy. The Court agreed that the MDOC's policy change in question would significantly promote its safety interests at the female facilities and noted that the District Court failed to accord due deference to the decision of a state political actor, the MDOC, in lawsuits brought by individuals challenging that decision in federal courts rather than through the political process.
After a rehearing and a petition for a writ of certiorari were denied, the case ended.Emma Bao - 08/08/2013