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Judge Approves $9.6 Million Settlement in DC Jail Employees' Sexual Harassment Suit

In January 2002 U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth gave final approval for disbursement of $9.6 million from the settlement of a class-action sexual harassment lawsuit brought by female employees of the Washington D.C. Department of Corrections.

The case, which began with a 14-page handwritten complaint by a female guard at the D.C. jail, alleged the women were the victims of sexual harassment on the job, and then were further victimized for complaining about it.

The monetary awards will range from several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the severity of the harassment. About 130 current and former employees will share in the settlement.

The allegations in the suit include instances of coerced sexual relationships that ended in pregnancies, sexual assault, unwanted grabbing and rubbing, and sexually suggestive and abusive comments.

The corrections agency has also had to deal with a lawsuit filed by female prisoners of the D.C. jail, the adjacent Central Treatment Facility and the Lorton Correctional Complex in Fairfax County, filed in October 1993, which also alleged a persistent pattern of sexual mistreatment against the female inmates that violated the Eighth Amendment. The agency was found liable in that suit as well.

The suit by the female employees was filed in 1994. A jury ruled in favor of the women in 1996, and the city appealed. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial, both sides reached a settlement agreement. In August 1997, the $8 million settlement was placed in escrow while 19 of the plaintiffs filed an appeal seeking more money than the agreement offered. In late January 2002, Judge Lamberth signed an order ending the case and authorizing the payout of the $9.6 million, which represents the $8 million plus nearly five years of interest.

"With the conclusion of this landmark case, we have finally come to the end of a sad and painful chapter in the history of the D.C. Department of Corrections," noted Warren Kaplan, lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs. "For more years than anyone can remember, [the agency] was a real no-woman's land, a place where the sexual exploitation of women and sexual harassment were taken for granted."

"I have been waiting for this for so long," said Barbara Carter, 46, a former sergeant at the agency. She said she has been troubled with severe depression because of the harassment.Brenda Smith, co-counsel in the prisoner suit and an Associate Professor at American University's law school, says the agency "had a serious problem with regard to sexual misconduct. It pointed to an institution that was very hostile to women," she said.

Source: Washington Post

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