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BOP Pays $30,000 to Settle Prison Counselor's Religious Discrimination Claim

On March 18, 2002, a settlement agreement was finalized resolving a complaint brought by a federal prison counselor who alleged she was targeted for discrimination because of her religious beliefs. PLR is now reporting on this case after a longstanding Freedom of Information Act request was recently fulfilled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

Manny Juhl was employed as correctional counselor at the Federal Correctional Institute in Sandstone, Minnesota (FCI-Sandstone) in 1992, when the warden said he received a complaint from a prisoner that Juhl had too many religious items displayed in her office and that she would routinely proselytize to prisoners. According to Juhl, who also serves as a counselor for employees involved in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) actions, her supervisor ordered her to "tone down' the number of religious articles in her office. An argument ensued, and the supervisor gave Juhl an unsatisfactory performance entry in her work record. Juhl became so distraught, she required medical treatment for an anxiety attack, her complaint later said.

Juhl said that she was subsequently unjustly accused of having an affair with a union official, and that she was asked to suspend her EEO duties as a result. Finally, Juhl says she was moved from her office into a converted closet so that she would be close to her supervisor. All of these actions were acts of discrimination based on her religious beliefs, Juhl said, who herself filed an EEO complaint.

The case eventually would up before an administrative law judge, who overturned a BOP decision finding that no discrimination occurred.

"The evidence does not support the notion that (Juhl) was engaging in religious counseling or proselytizing of inmates," said the decision, which also questioned the warden's contention that he received a prisoner complaint, noting that no prisoner was ever named or identified by the warden.

"The agency failed to satisfy its burden of establishing" that Juhl's religious beliefs "caused a real, as opposed to a hypothetical, lack of neutrality in her counseling," the EEO judge ruled. "Accordingly, we find that the agency (BOP) discriminated against (Juhl) when it did not accommodate her religious practices."

The EEO also found that Juhl was discriminated against when she was removed-from her EEO duties "in direct response to her threat to file a lawsuit."

The BOP was ordered to send Juhl's supervisors to training and to post a notice at FCI-Sandstone that workplace discrimination had taken place there, and giving instructions for other employees to report any other instances of job-related problems. The issue of damages was reserved for a later hearing.

Prior to that hearing, however, Juhl and the BOP entered into a settlement agreement in which Juhl received $7,000. Another $23,000 was awarded for attorney's fees and costs. See: Juhl v. Ashcroft, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Nos. 260-94-9020X, 260-94-9021X, and 260-94-9022X (March 15, 2002).

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Related legal case

Juhl v. Ashcroft