Sexual harassment in the workplace remains a serious problem across the country, but some workplaces tend to present more complicated issues than others. In jails and prisons, for example, the issue of sexual harassment can overlap with the issue of sexual assault, both among inmates and by guards against inmates. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, while the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, 42 U.S.C. § 15601 et seq., attempts to address the sexual abuse of inmates. Recent allegations of sexual harassment and assault against a captain at Rikers Island Correctional Center in New York City demonstrate the potential for overlap. The jail facility has seen multiple similar allegations, leading to criminal charges and civil lawsuits.
This issue involves both civil and criminal laws. Title VII allows an aggrieved employee to make a civil claim for damages. Acts that give rise to a Title VII sexual harassment claim, such as unwanted sexual comments or overtures, might not constitute a criminal offense. Unconsented touching, however, could be prosecutable under state criminal law. Sexual assault is a criminal offense under New York law, which specifically states that an inmate of a correctional facility cannot consent to sexual activity with a guard. N.Y. Pen. L. § 130.05(3)(e).
PREA does not give any specific legal rights or remedies to victims of sexual assault, such as the right to bring a cause of action for damages. Those rights already exist under federal civil rights statutes. See, e.g. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The purpose of PREA is to call attention to the issue of sexual assault in jails and prisons, and to provide mechanisms for reducing and hopefully eliminating its occurrence. With regard to the multiple allegations against guards at Rikers Island, the issue appears to be that the city has not fully implemented measures made available by PREA. Using available resources to combat sexual assault against inmates should also help fight back against the sexual harassment of employees.
The recent allegations against a Rikers Island captain, mentioned above, reportedly occurred in January 2016. The captain allegedly groped a female officer assigned to the jail’s administrative office. She reported the incident immediately, and the captain was arrested several months later. He is facing charges of forcible touching, third-degree sexual abuse, and second-degree harassment. N.Y. Pen. L. §§ 130.52, 130.55, 240.26. The case followed the arrest of another officer in late 2015 for alleged sexual assault against an inmate.
The alleged January 2016 incident has apparently not led to a lawsuit, but other alleged incidents are the subject of ongoing litigation. Multiple lawsuits seek to hold individual guards and officers, as well as the city, liable for civil rights violations and intentional torts. See, e.g. Doe 1 et al. v. The City of New York et al., No. 1:15-cv-03849, complaint (S.D.N.Y., May 19, 2015); Kuchma v. City of New York et al., No. 1:16-cv-07830, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Oct. 7, 2016).
At Phillips & Associates, our skilled and experienced sexual harassment attorneys advocate for the rights of job applicants, employees, and former employees in New York City, helping them assert their rights in claims for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other unlawful employment practices. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.
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National Park Service Employees Around the Country Allege Sexual Harassment by Supervisors, New York Employment Attorney Blog, December 22, 2016
Lawsuit Seeks to Hold Employer Accountable for Sexual Harassment that Turned Violent, New York Employment Attorney Blog, December 19, 2016
Report Highlights Sexual Harassment in Medical Schools, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 10, 2016