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Clinical Psychologist Wins Discrimination Suit Against Bureau of Prisons

Corine Zupanick, a clinical psychologist employed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons at Federal Correctional Institution Three Rivers, Texas, won her discrimination suit on appeal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Zupanick claimed that she was discriminated against on the basis of sex (female), race (white), disability (regarded as disabled), and that she was the victim of reprisal. The alleged sexual discrimination was surprisingly widespread considering that most of it occurred within the confines of the FCI Bastrop Psychology Services Department. According to the EEOC appeal, the problems centered around the Chief of Psychology, who was a white male, and his alleged sex bias.

As reported in the EEOC appeal, Zupanick claimed discrimination as a result of: 1) denial of annual leave; 2) being required to return to FCI Three Rivers prior to completion of the required training session at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia; 3) being put on absent without leave status, even though her supervisor approved the day off in question; 4) being subject to a hostile work environment, including being told by her boss, the FCI Bastrop Chief of Psychology, that she "needed to learn her place," and being referred to as a "lesbo," "cu#t," "b%#ch," and a "dy&e" on the job; 5) being terminated for being absent without leave when she wasn't; and 6) being subject to retaliation by receiving multiple letters from the Federal Bureau of Prisons demanding that she repay moving expenses.

On January 12, 2001, on appeal, the EEOC ruled in favor of Zupanick. The Federal Bureau of Prisons was ordered to reinstate her from the effective date of her termination, to provide her with back pay from the date of her termination, to institute a remedial training program at FCI Three Rivers for all supervisors, managers, and human resource personnel in order to "ensure that acts of discrimination and sexual harassment do not recur", to require the FCI Bastrop Chief of Psychology (if he still remained employed by the Bureau of Prisons) to undergo "a minimum of sixteen (16) hours of EEO training with respect to Title VII and sexual harassment", to pay Zupanick $5,826.00 in pecuniary damages and $50,000.00 in non-pecuniary (i.e., punitive) damages, and to pay Zupanick's attorney's fees.

While the Federal Bureau of Prisons and FCI Bastrop officials didn't acknowledge any liability or culpability, the administrative law judge (AJ) who heard Zupanick's case made several charged findings in her December 16, 1998 Recommended Decision report. In one section the appeal notes, "The AJ concluded that complainant established a prima facie case of sex and reprisal discrimination[.]" In a following section the EEOC appellate report states, "The AJ concluded that complainant established that more likely than not, the agency's [Federal Bureau of Prisons] reasons were pretext for discrimination or retaliation[.]" And perhaps most damning, the EEOC appellate decision states, "[T]he AJ found that S-1 [the FCI Bastrop Chief of Psychology] had created a hostile work environment for complainant and that he had treated her male colleagues more favorably. . . [T]he agency was on notice of the problems and failed to correct it."

Regardless of the administrative law judge's findings of fault on the behalf of FCI Bastrop and Federal Bureau of Prisons officials, no disciplinary action was ever acknowledged by either entity.

The documents from this case were obtained by Prison Legal News through a Freedom of Information Act request, and subsequent 12 years of federal litigation with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Source: Zupanick v. Reno, EEOC No. 360-97-8249X (Jan. 12, 2001).

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Related legal case

Zupanick v. Reno