Twelve female deputies who worked in a Denver jail are claiming that sexual harassment and abuse from male inmates went unpunished, according to a report by the Denver Post.
Attorney Brian Moore, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the women, told Broadly that the Denver Sheriff's Department, which oversees the jails, allows male inmates "to degrade and harass them on a nearly daily basis." Moore accused the Sheriff's Department of telling the women that such treatment is just part of the job.
"It's not," Moore asserted. "While it may not be possible to eliminate all such behavior from a jail, sheriff departments are under a legal duty to do what they can, to make reasonable efforts to protect their deputies and other employees from known sexual harassment."
By failing in that duty, Moore said, the Denver Sheriff Department causes its female deputies to perform an already tough job in an extremely hostile work environment. In the lawsuit, the women claim they are often daily victims of sexual harassment and occasionally of sexual abuse. Examples of alleged incidents include inmates groping female guards, masturbating in front of them, and making daily rape threats.
"At best, token penalties are imposed on the offending inmate, and often there are no penalties at all," the suit alleges. "This has resulted in a jail culture in which male inmates know they can harass female deputies with relative impunity."
According to the Denver Post, the lawsuit also claims that female jail employees are discriminated against because they disproportionately receive dangerous assignments.
About a year ago, the Denver Sheriff Department put together a gender equality commission, for both employees and inmates, to look into problems for women in the Denver jail.
Denise Maes, public policy director at ACLU Colorado, told Broadly that through that gender equality commission, the ACLU has discovered that "Denver is behind on addressing women's issues generally, for both inmates and deputies."
Maes said that the ACLU is meeting every other month with the jail to work on different policies that did not exist before, such as accommodating pregnant deputies.
"We are just hopeful that the department as a whole will support some very, very needed changes, and potentially, this lawsuit brings to the forefront the whole other set of problems of sexual harassment from inmates toward female deputies," said Maes.