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Sexually Harassed California Prison Employees Awarded $1,978,376

On February 18, 1997, a California superior court awarded three female
prison employees a total of $1,978,376 for sexual harassment they
experienced while working at a state prison.

Plaintiffs, guards Blanche Leslie Ratcliff, 39, and Amber Gros, 40,
assistant warden Linda George, 54, and clerical assistant Carol Smith, 26,
claimed that while employed at the California Men's Colony they were
subjected to a hostile work environment due to sexual harassment,
including retaliation, and that the California Department of Corrections
(CDC) was aware of the harassment but took no action to stop it.
Specifically, Ratcliff claimed numerous supervisors demeaned and
humiliated her, that guards' sexual and offensive behavior resulted in a
hostile work environment, that a guard harassed her by displaying a
pornographic magazine, that she was subjected to retaliation when she
reported the harassment, that her coworkers shunned her causing her to
fear for her safety, and that while her harasser was assigned to a more
desirable shift, she received a less desirable assignment.

Gros claimed that she was shunned by her coworkers after settling her
sexual harassment claim, that she was assigned to tower duty (generally
viewed as punishment), that she was subsequently assigned to a shift where
she was the lone guard confined with 90 prisoners, and that she feared for
her safety due to the lack of support she received.

George claimed she was subjected to unwanted attention from warden August
Infante, that he occupied her time, undercut her authority, and humiliated
and demeaned her in front of others.

Smith claimed that over several years Infante asked her out repeatedly,
inquired about her personal affairs, phoned her and went to her home, and
physically assaulted her after showing up drunk at her house uninvited.
At trial, plaintiffs' doctors testified that the sexual harassment
resulted in permanent psychological injury which manifested in physical
symptoms such as depression, anxiety, headaches, loss of concentration,
weight gain, weight loss, diarrhea, and sleep disorders. The doctors
further testified that plaintiffs were unable to return to work in a male-
dominated setting, including the prison, and that they would continue to
suffer from diminished self-esteem and lack of trust.

As to Smith's claims, the court found for the defense. The remaining
plaintiffs prevailed and were awarded a total of $1,978,376, less workers
compensation liens ($840,266 to Ratcliff, $784,155 to Gros and $353,955 to

Plaintiffs' experts were as follows. For all plaintiffs: Ellie Axeiroth,
Ph.D. of San Luis Obispo (clinial psychology). For Ratcliff: Ken Katsaris
of Tallahassee (prison standards), Kimberley Schlievert, Ph.D. of
Atascadero and Nancy E. Webber, Ph.D. of San Luis Obispo (clinical
psychology). For George: Marjorie L. Cockrell of Westlake Village
(vocational rehabilitation), Rhoma Young of Oakland (human resources
policies), Robert W. Johnson of Los Altos (economics), and Ross Barberi-
Clark of Cambria (psychology/counseling). For George and Gros: T. Menzie
Cliff, M.D. of San Luis Obispo (psychiatry).

Gros and Ratcliff were represented by Don A. Ernst and Patricia Gomez of
the San Luis Obispo law firm Ernst and Mattison. George was represented by
Rita L. Sciaroni of the San Luis Obispo firm Hall & Hieatt. Smith was
represented by Phillip R. Newell of San Luis Obispo. See: Ratcliff v.
California Department of Corrections, Superior Court of San Luis Obispo
County, Case No. CV76865.

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Related legal case

Ratcliff v. California Department of Corrections

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