Prison officials may be held liable for tolerating hostile workplaces for female employees. That was the message of a case the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear. Deanna Freitag won $600,000 in damages after she was repeatedly the target of lewd, exhibitionist behavior by inmates at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Male guards shrugged off the inmates’ X-rated graphic displays, but Freitag contended that the conduct was creating a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Freitag charged that she eventually was fired. She then went to court and won her damage verdict. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal filed by the California Attorney General’s office. The state is concerned that the precedent might unleash an array of similar hostile workplace lawsuits in prisons. At issue in the case was whether prison officials can be held responsible for failing to control the misbehavior of inmates. An attorney for the state says, “We are just trying to weigh the many competing concerns in a complicated prison system.”