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$135,000 Settles Sexual Orientation Discrimination Suit by Former Michigan Prison Guard

Twelve months after starting work at the DOC in January 2016, Ashley Menchaca transferred to the evening shift at the Woodland Correctional Facility. The supervisors for her shift were guard Captains Melissa Godfrey and Paul Schrieber and Sergeants Ahmet Ferizovic and [first name unknown] Long.

According to court documents, the supervisors began harassing Menchaca almost immediately. Long told her to stop having “resting bitch face,” and threatened her with disciplinary actions.

She was assigned to the “work gate,” a position considered punitive because it has no rotation, includes continuous direct supervision, and requires the guard to sit for long periods, often without relief to use the bathroom or check work emails on a department computer as required by regulations.

In one instance, Long aggressively grabbed her hat and yanked it down over her eyes as he passed through her post. Soon thereafter, Ferizovic asked another guard who worked with her to help him “fix” her.

Ferizovic also repeatedly threatened to discipline her for checking her departmental email after being properly relieved during her shift and for leaving her post to use the restroom without first being relieved despite the fact that work practice was to use the restroom after informing the control center if no relief was available.

Menchaca was disciplined for minor infractions and actions other guards did with impunity, including not wearing a tie, checking departmental emails, using the restroom without being properly relieved, or reading an unauthorized book. In doing so, the supervisors skipped informal resolution and counseling required by regulations, and instead wrote formal disciplinary reports.

Menchaca also was allegedly uniquely subjected to various orders. For instance, she was told she could not wear any outer garment over her uniform even though many other guards were allowed to wear such items as hats or vests. She also was denied the use of a padded rolling chair with back support that every other guard assigned to work gate duty used. Instead, when her shift started, the chair was rolled away and replaced with a hard stool with no back support.

Supervisors also had multiple bogus departmental investigations initiated against Menchaca and started false rumors about her frequently visiting Mexico. Due to the hostile work environment, she quit her job and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit with the assistance of Royal Oak, Michigan attorney Andrew J. Laurila.

The lawsuit alleged workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation, the creation of a hostile workplace environment, and retaliation, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. Republican former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette moved to dismiss the sexual orientation claim as there was no explicit federal protection for sexual orientation, but the newly elected and openly gay Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel had the motion withdrawn in May 2019.

Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, elected last year, endorsed a Michigan Civil Rights Commission ruling that the ban on discrimination on the basis of “sex” included discrimination against state employees on the basis of sexual orientation. The suit was then settled for $135,000. Menchacha was represented by James Rasor and Andrew Lauria of the Rasor Law Firm in Royal Oak. See: Menchaca v. Michigan Department of Corrections, USDC (S.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:18-cv-10874-TGB-EAS. 

 

Related legal case

Menchaca v. Michigan Department of Corrections