British Prison Service Settles Complaint with Lesbian Guards

Great Britain’s Prison Service reached a settlement with nine lesbian prison guards who had accused the Prison Service of sexual discrimination.

Back in March 2002, the nine prison guards were transferred out of Holloway Prison after a five-month investigation claimed they were part of an organized group that was sexually harassing female staff at the prison.

At the time, the women were accused of harassing heterosexual female staff and trying to pressure them to become lesbians. Martin Narey, then director general of the Prison Service, said at the time,

The findings of the investigation report into bullying and intimidation of staff at Holloway have deeply concerned me. The findings reveal that sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation of staff have taken place, and have not, until now, been properly challenged. Behavior of this kind will not be tolerated in the prison service. Management should be tough. It should be robust. But it should never be intimidating. Bullying and sexual harassment are totally unacceptable. These staff who have been there some time effectively established themselves as an alternative management structure. They turned Holloway into an unhealthy place in which to be going to work.

Former Holloway staff member Terry White went further, telling The Observer,

They wanted the challenge of turning straight women. They would target the best looking and most feminine of the new recruits, especially the young ones from outside London.

The women responded with a complaint calling the allegations unfounded. In January, the Prison Service reached a settlement that explicitly stated the sexual harassment claims were in fact unfounded. The Prison Service also agreed to a six-figure settlement with the nine women and allowed them to apply for jobs at Holloway Prison in the future.


Damages for lesbian prison guards. The BBC, January 28, 2005.

Lesbian Prison Officers Disciplined. The Observer, March 18, 2002.

Lesbian prison officers claim sexual discrimination. Dan Thomas, Personnel Today, January 13, 2005.

Library Settles Internet Sexual Harassment Case

A Minneapolis decided in August to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against it by 12 librarians. The case nails the final coffin in any pretension that sexual harassment law is anything but a call to censorship.

The librarians sued because the Minneapolis library decided to offer unfiltered Internet access. Inevitably some patrons of the library chose to use the Internet to view pornography.

At which point the librarians sued claiming that their exposure to the pornography viewed by library patrons constituted a hostile working environment.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission agreed in 2001 that there was probably cause that exposure to the INtenret pornography constituted a hostile working environment, but the Justice Department declined to sue the library on behalf of the plaintiffs. So they hired an attorney to pursue the case.

The library decided to settle by paying the librarians $435,000 and likely adding restrictions on Internet access for library patrons.

As Eugene Volokh noted in an article on the case back in 2001 for Reason, this case could have far reaching impact,

This is just the latest great leap forward for harassment law. Harassment law already forces employers to suppress sexually suggestive displays (not by any means limited to pornography), sexual jokes, politically offensive statements, and religious proselytizing.

During the Clinton scandals, employment experts sensibly suggested that employers had to suppress Clinton-Lewinsky jokes, because such jokes might have helped create a “sexually hostile work environment.” The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has argued that “educational harassment law” — a body of law developed by analogy to workplace harassment law — requires universities to implement student speech codes. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission has likewise argued that public accommodations harassment law outlaws American Indian team names and mascots, on the grounds that such symbols are racially offensive. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination forced a Boston bar to take down a display that supposedly expressed racist viewpoints.

Ah what a brave new world harassment law has opened up.


Library settles with workers who sued over hostile work environment. WCCO.Com, August 15, 2003.

British Gov’t Workers Required to Report Inter-Office Sexual Liasions

UK newspaper The Observer reports that fears of sexual harassment lawsuits have prompted many government agencies in Great Britain to require employees to report any sexual relationships they are having with their colleagues to their respective human resources department.

And such fears appear to be well-founded. According to The Observer,

Research by academics at the University of Sydney suggests that almost a quarter of failed office relationships end in sexual harassment cases, and a survey in America by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 52 per cent of companies believe they suffer in some way because of romance in the workplace. Nearly a third of employees quizzed said they feared office affairs would end in claims of sexual harassment. Small wonder then that 95 per cent of personnel managers said they believed office romances should not be allowed or, at least, should be discouraged.

Which, of course, takes further along the road to where Daphne Patai predicted the sexual harassment industry was eventually headed — to stigmatizing heterosexual relationships as inherently suspect.

Are two of your coworkers sleeping together? Well, clearly, somebody should be watching that situation to make certain it doesn’t get out of hand. As Patai put it, “Two fundamentally opposing world views are currently in collision. One of them sees sex (especially male sexuality) as a perpetual danger. The other sees sex as primarily a source of pleasure for both women and men.”

Clearly the former are in charge in the UK.


Personnel affair. The Observer, July 20, 2003.

Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Dismissed Over Plaintiff’s Loose Lips

Women’s E-News reports that a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against Ford Motor Company was dismissed by a judge after the plaintiff and plaintiff’s lawyers publicly talked about a prior sexual misconduct conviction by one of the defendants.

Justine Maldonado is suing Ford claiming that an inspector at one of its plants, Daniel P. Bennett, exposed himself to her and demanded oral sex. Several other women have filed similar lawsuits against Ford and Bennett. According to Women’s E-News, Ford maintains that it investigated the complaints and found them baseless.

Maldonado and her lawyer both gave interviews with reporters in which they discussed Bennett’s 1995 conviction for exposing himself to three women. Under the terms of that conviction, Bennett’s conviction was expunged after he met court-determined requirements.

Circuit Court Judge William J. Giovan dismissed Maldonado’s lawsuit saying that the plaintiffs efforts at publicizing the expunged conviction was little more than an attempt to prejudice any jury that might hear the case. In his decision, Giovan wrote that, “The behavior in question has been intentional, premeditated and intransigent. It was designed to reach the farthest boundaries of the public consciousness.”

According to a Detroit Free Press story, along with interviews with the press Maldonado and her lawyer also staged protests and handed out flyers detailing Bennett’s expunged conviction.


Lawyer to file appeal in Ford case. Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, Detroit Free Press, August 27, 2002.

Judge Dismisses Sex Harassment Suit against Ford. August 31, 2002.

Does Michigan’s Sexual Harassment Law Violate the First Amendment?

Wayne State University Law School professor Kingsley Browne wrote an op-ed in the Detroit News earlier this month arguing that Michigan’s sexual harassment statute violates the First Amendment. He was specifically referring to Burns v. City of Detroit in which a woman won a $1 million judgment against the City of Detroit for the insulting and vulgar speech directed at her by co-workers. But, according to Browne, both the verdict and the statute are in violation of Constitutional protections of free speech.

A major problem with the Burns v. City of Detroit case, according to Browne, is that the jury heard testimony about both constitutionally protected speech and speech that was not constitutionally protected. But the jury was not informed that it could only decide on liability for speech that was not constitutionally protected.

Moreover, so far rulings on sexual harassment have engaged in obvious viewpoint discrimination. Browne writes,

Judicial scrutiny is at its highest when the government restricts speech based upon the viewpoint expressed, which is precisely what the harassment law does. Progressive statements about women are fine; Neanderthal statements are not. Statements praising women as a group raise no issue; statements critical of women do.

As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which covers Michigan, has said, harassment law requires “that an employer take prompt action to prevent . . . bigots from expressing their opinions in a way that abuses or offends their co-workers.” This is classic viewpoint regulating, which is almost always impermissible.

But the truly bizarre nature of sexual harassment statutes comes in with the whole idea of a “hostile environment.” As Browne notes, the hostile environment theory makes it all but impossible for individuals to tell whether or not their speech will break the law. Browne writes,

The vagueness of the harassment statute is made worse by the “totality of the circumstances” standard. A hostile environment can be created by a collection of different speech by different speakers even though no single statement by itself would violate the law.

One cannot know, therefore, whether a hostile environment exists without knowing the entire array of speech that will be challenged. Speakers are supposed to be given an advance warning of what can be said and what cannot, but the hostile environment standard is always assessed after the fact.

So how to fix sexual harassment statutes? Simple, says Browne — require that plaintiffs prove intent. Browne notes that a Michigan anti-stalking law was upheld because rather than simply describing behaviors that qualified as stalking, it also required that plaintiffs show the defendant engaged in “willful” conduct to harass the alleged victim. Such a similar standard should also be incorporated into sexual harassment statutes.


Harassment law chills free speech. Kingsley Browne, The Detroit News, July 9, 2002.

Columbia’s Sexual Harassment Policies and Its Status as a Private School

Wendy McElroy makes an interesting observation that I had not heard before about the controversy surrounding Columbia’s sexual harassment policy. If Columbia were a public university or college its policy would be clearly unconstitutional and the courts would take little time at all overturning it. Columbia is a private university, however, and so doesn’t have to abide by the Constitutional protections that a state institution would have to consider — the standard for private colleges is that it has to adhere to “fundamental fairness.”

But as McElroy points out, Columbia is using a federal grant to pay the university official in charge of administering the harassment policy,

Columbia’s Administration also points out that the University is a private institution and the courts have upheld its right to determine which procedures are appropriate to serve its needs. In short, students have no right to expect Constitutional protections from university procedures. Private or not, it is the government, which means the taxpayer, who will foot much of the bill for Columbia’s experiment with gender justice. As part of their Report, the Task Force mentioned that grant funding to finance a full-time officer responsible for disciplining sexual misconduct was available from the Department of Justice. The on-campus gender crusader is estimated to cost $125,000 of taxpayer money in the first year. Yet, according to Patricia Catapano, who chaired the Task Force, “The courts only have said that Columbia…has to have fundamental fairness” because it is a private institution.

If Columbia wants to maintain its Star Chamber-like system of student justice it may have the right to do so as a private university, but it certainly shouldn’t use taxpayer money to enforce a policy that would be unconstitutional at a public institution.


Gender Madness on Columbia’s Campus. Wendy McElroy, IFeminists.Com, March 20, 2001.