Sexual harassment of prison staff by prison inmates is a difficult issue. Courts have rightly held that harassment by inmates can be actionable when the employer fails to take reasonable steps to combat it, but prisoners are not employees and are already incarcerated, so they require very different remedies than those generally used in the workplace.
The Seventh Circuit recently addressed the issue of harassment by prisoners in Howard v. Cook County Sheriff’s Office and County of Cook, Case No. 20-1723 (7th Cir. Mar. 4, 2021). The Howard case was brought by 10 women who worked in or for the Cook County Jail. Around 100,000 inmates pass through that facility each year, and it houses an average of 6,500 inmates on any given day. The crux of their claim was that women working in the facility were constantly subjected to sexual harassment by inmates. They supported their claim with more than 1,700 filed reports of sexual harassment by male inmates, affidavits and the jail’s own policies, and they sought certification of a class of approximately 2,000 nonsupervisory women who worked in the jail or the adjacent courthouse. Continue Reading