Gender And Corrections Assignments

Christina Jones worked as a correctional officer at the Indiana Department of Correction’s Henryville Correctional Facility. Henryville is a minimum security male prison facility, housing between 170 and 200 inmates and employing 34 custody staff. Of the 34 custody staff, 28 were male.

In 2011, custody staff were scheduled on a monthly basis, with a six day on, two day off rotation. The Department employed a practice of placing no more than three female officers on any shift, designed to comply with a policy prohibiting cross-gender searches except to prevent the imminent loss of contraband.

When Jones was hired, she requested to work days, but she agreed to work any shift to which she was assigned. Jones was originally assigned third shift (4:00 p.m. to midnight). In December 2011, Jones asked her lieutenant to switch to the day shift. The lieutenant responded that he could not put her on days because it was a “male position.”

Around the same time, Jones sent an email to her lieutenant requesting a switch to the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift. Jones recited that her current schedule made it difficult to spend time with her 12-year-old daughter. Jones requested the day shift three other times during her employment, and each time, she was denied the request because there were already three women scheduled for the day shift.

In August 2013, the lieutenant re-assigned two female sergeants from the day shift, which created an opening for Jones to move to days. Jones accepted the transfer to the day shift, where she stayed until she quit. She then sued the Department, alleging that her assignment to third shift amounted to illegal sex discrimination.

A federal court dismissed the lawsuit. The Court noted that “Title VII makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to limit, segregate, or classify employees in a way that would deprive or limit their employment opportunities because of their sex. An exception exists, however, if the employees’ sex is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.

“Jones attacks the scheduling policy on three grounds. First, she argues that it is not reasonably necessary to protect inmates’ privacy because Henryville employs female correctional officers on every shift, including the day shift. Jones’s argument fails to appreciate the reason behind the policy. The lieutenant in charge of scheduling, like many prison administrators, was faced with the conflict between the right of females not to be discriminated against in job opportunities within Henryville because of their gender, and the right of inmates to avoid unwanted intrusions by persons of the opposite sex. The resulting conflict between these two interests has normally been resolved by attempting to accommodate both interests through adjustments in scheduling and job responsibilities for the correctional officers. The adjustment of schedules is the exact balancing that was done here in the interest of security and inmate privacy.

“Second, Jones argues that the scheduling policy is not entitled to deference because it is not the product of a reasoned decision-making process. However, a common-sense understanding of the penal conditions at Henryville includes the possibility of a non-emergency strip search on any given shift. The scheduling policy ensures each male prisoner’s constitutional right to privacy is protected by limiting the possibility of cross-gender strip searches to emergency situations only. It also ensures female officers will not be put in a position of violating policy by performing a non-emergency strip search on a male offender, or foregoing the non-emergency strip search all-together. Because the lieutenant’s ‘business is planning for what if’ and ensuring the safety and security of the inmates and the officers, there is a basis in fact for limiting the number of female correctional officers on each shift.

“Lastly, Jones argues there were other reasonable alternatives than limiting shifts to three females. For example, the lieutenant could have asked a male officer from a prior shift to work overtime. But again, the lieutenant’s job required him to follow policy and to balance the privacy rights of inmates against the right of female correctional officers not to be discriminated against in job opportunities. He determined, based on his experience, that limiting shifts to three female correctional officers was the appropriate way to accommodate those interests. The Court defers to his business judgment.”

Jones v. Henryville Correctional Facility, 2016 WL 6680305 (S.D. Ind. 2016).