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Michigan Department of Corrections Settles Discriminatory Employment Claims

On June 3rd, 2021, a Michigan federal court approved a settlement agreement resolving discriminatory employment practice claims that the United States government brought against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).

Twenty-eight female guards at the Woman’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) filed discrimination charges against MDOC with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They alleged that MDOC engaged in two discriminatory employment practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by: (1) designating four Non-Housing correctional officer (CO) assignments (Food, Service, Yard, Property Room and Electronic Monitor) at WHV as “female only” positions; and (2) barring female CO’s from transferring from WHV on the same terms of male CO’s. MDOC later lifted three “female-only” designations, but left the Electronic Monitoring assignment designation in place.

The EEOC investigated the charges, found reasonable cause to believe that Title VII violations had occurred and referred those charges to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) for possible litigation. DOJ then brought federal suit against Michigan and MDOC, alleging a pattern and practice of discrimination.

After extensive discovery and settlement negotiations, on February 18, 2021, the parties submitted a join Motion for Provisional Entry of the Settlement Agreement and to Schedule a Fairness Hearing. The proposed settlement required MDOC to: (1) develop a system for reviewing female-only job assignments, (2) lift the WHV transfer-freeze within 14 days of reaching a 9-14% Vacancy Rate for female CO’s; (3) implement a written WHV recruitment and retention plan; and (4) make 15 priority transfers of WHV female CO’s. The Agreement also provided $750,000 to compensate female CO’s who were harmed by the transfer freeze between 2009 and entry of the Agreement. It also provided $5,000 and $10,000 Service Awards for the 28 EEOC Charging Parties to reward them for bringing the suit.

The court granted the motion and set a June 2, 2021 Fairness Hearing. Thirty-nine people objected to the proposed settlement and 15 objectors asked to speak at the Fairness Hearing. On May 24, 2021 the parties filed a joint Motion for Final Approval of the Settlement Agreement and Responses to the Objections. Ten objectors appeared and addressed the court during the June 2, 2021 Fairness Hearing.

On June 3, 2021, the court overruled all the objections and granted final approval of the Settlement Agreement, concluding that it is lawful, fair, reasonable, and consistent with the public interest. “The Court commends the Plaintiff United States in recognizing the issues at WHV and bringing this lawsuit to put an end to the discriminatory practices against the female correctional officers at WHV, and in working diligently with Defendants, who have ultimately cooperated to remedy those problems.” See: United States v. Michigan Department of Corrections, 2021 US Dist. Lexis 104206, 2021WL225370 (E.D. Mich.S.Div.6/3/21)

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Related legal case

United States v. Michigan