State denies discrimination at Michigan women's prison

LANSING - The Michigan Department of Corrections, in a new court filing, denies allegations from the U.S. Justice Department that it has violated the rights of female corrections officers at Michigan's only women's prison through staffing policies that result in excess forced overtime.

The Justice Department sued the state and the Corrections Department in federal court in Detroit in June, alleging its policy of allowing only female corrections officers in certain jobs at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ypsilanti has been overly broad since 2009 and the department's denial of transfers to other prisons for female corrections officers has been unlawful and discriminatory, violating Title 7 of the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

Combined, the policies "required female employees at Huron Valley to work excessive overtime hours at a cost to their health," the department said.

The federal government filed the lawsuit, followed by an amended complaint filed July 27, after the Free Press reported May 24 on a female corrections officers who quit the prison that month, saying she could no longer tolerate what forced overtime was doing to themselves and their families. At least one more female corrections officer has since quit for similar reasons.

But in a response to the DOJ complaint filed Monday, the state and the Corrections Department deny the discrimination allegations and ask U.S. District Judge Paul Borman to dismiss the case.

"Defendants deny ... that any Title 7 violations have occurred, that the amended complaint has any basis in law or fact, or that any basis for a pattern or practice discrimination claim exists," said assistant Attorney General Jeanmarie Miller.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to stop discriminatory job assignment and transfer policies and implement policies to halt further discrimination. The suit also seeks monetary damages for affected female corrections officers.

► Related: Michigan spending on prisons far outpaces schools

The department years ago banned male corrections officers from female housing units because of a past history of sexual abuse. But the Michigan Department of Corrections has until very recently extended that ban to parts of the prison such as the gym, food services and the library.

Inmates complain the prison is overcrowded, which the department also denies.

Borman has requested an Oct. 17 scheduling conference in the case.

(2016 © Detroit Free Press)


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