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Florida Prison Nurses Net $1 Million for Sexual Harassment by Prisoners

A Florida federal jury has awarded twelve nurses employed by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) nearly $1 million for sexual harassment by prisoners in confinement cells.

The complaint in that lawsuit was filed by twenty-eight FDOC employees from four different prisons. The nurses were all females who provided care and other services to male prisoners in FDOC?s close management confinement (Florida?s version of a Special Housing Unit). The basis for their claim was gender based discrimination that subjected the Plaintiffs to unwelcome, severe, and pervasive sexual harassment by prisoners on close management.

The allegations of each of the plaintiffs exhibited a distinct pattern of what is known as ?gunning.? When one of the female plaintiffs would enter a confinement wing, prisoners would expose themselves and masturbate at them in front of their cell door windows.

Washington Correctional Institution nurse Kathleen Rudolph had a prisoner that was due to be released the next day masturbate at her while she was making her rounds. The prisoner ?told Rudolph that it was one for the road, because he was leaving the next morning, and there was nothing she could do about it.? The guard on duty just shrugged, the complaint said.

The complaint reveals that the ?gunners? were real exhibitionists, wanting to be seen. Not only would they masturbate while being handed medication, other prisoners would stand on the toilet or sing in the cell to be seen while masturbating. Sexually explicit and degrading comments were always yelled out towards the plaintiffs.

To assure a nurse had to spend time at a prisoners cell, the sick call system was utilized. Martin Correctional Institution nurse Charlene Fontneau was told that ?it was like prostitution in that inmates would pay other inmates to make sick calls so that they could masturbate when the female nurses arrived.?

The Plaintiffs alleged that they were not provided any training to prepare them for or to address sexual harassment by prisoners. In fact, guards told them to deal with it. ?Well, he?s a man, and he?s in prison. What do you expect?? Others would say, ?you?ve forgotten where you are. You?re in a male prison.? Guards tolerated the behavior because it was the prisoners? ?home.?

When the nurses tried to take action by writing disciplinary reports, the reports either resulted in no action or were rejected for using ?masturbation? rather than describing the infraction in pornographic detail. On August 10, 2000, David L. Thomas, the Director of Health Services for FDOC, issued a directive to ?All Health Services? that instructed health care professionals not to write disciplinary reports or take any disciplinary action against prisoners. Nurse Sharon Hagan was told the reasoning for this was because the processing of such action was $600-$700.

The matter went to trial on the claims of the nurses who worked at Washington Correctional Institution. On January 26, 2007, the jury entered verdicts for the nurses. It awarded $97,500 each to: Sharon Hagan Armstrong, Nancy Mitchell, Bonnie Farrior, Carol Woods Reed, and Kathleen Rudolph; $82,500 to: Beverly Jenkins, Merida Hall,; $75,000 to Mary Adair; $67,500 to Judith Ivery; $37,500 to Patricia Anderson. The verdicts totaled $990,000.

The claims of sixteen other FDOC female employees, who were employed at Martin, Lake, and Glades Correctional Institutions, are still pending. In one of the suits by nurses to go to trial, the jury sided with the Department of Corrections. PLN will report on future developments. See: Rudolph v. Department of Corrections, USDC, NDFL, Case No: 5:06-CV-00056-RS-MD.

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Related legal case

Rudolph v. Department of Corrections

The complaint and verdicts are available in the brief bank.