Mobile County Sheriff’s Office settles sexual harassment suit, says DOJ

Female corrections officers alleged inmates subjected them to harassment, supervisors acted indifferently

By: - April 24, 2023 2:20 pm
A bronze map marks the city of Mobile, and includes an engraving reflecting the city holding the earliest recorded Mardi Gras in what is now the United States.

A portion of a bronze map outside the Alabama Department of Archives and History, seen on February 8, 2023, marks the city of Mobile. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday it had reached a settlement with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office over a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by female corrections officers.

Under the terms of the agreement, released by DOJ, the Sheriff’s Office would pay $2.02 million to settle the lawsuit from 12 COs at the Mobile County Jail, who alleged that inmates routinely exposed themselves to the officers and made suggestive or threatening comments.

The plaintiffs also alleged that their supervisors treated their complaints with indifference or, in one case, suggested that they brought the behavior on themselves.

The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment Monday, saying the office had not finalized the agreement.

“What they’re sending out has not been finalized by us,” Lori Myles, a spokeswoman for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, said in a phone interview Monday. “We have not signed any documents agreeing to the settlement.”

A message seeking comment was left with Paul Carbo, who represented the sheriff’s office in the case.

“Employers must take appropriate action to protect their employees from sexual harassment in the workplace,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement on Monday. “Just like any other workplace, jails must take steps necessary to ensure that female employees are not subject to a sexually hostile work environment in any form.”

The lawsuit, filed against the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office in 2021, said that inmates at the Mobile County Jail subjected women working there to threats, exposure and public masturbation.

According to the complaint, one employee was so “disturbed and sickened” by the behavior “that she has had to take sick leave and go home for the day.”

The plaintiffs also alleged that supervisors acted indifferently to complaints, either losing them or rejecting them because they were not graphic enough. The plaintiffs said supervisors told them that harassment was part of the job, or that they were bringing it on themselves.

The complaint alleged that one supervisor told a plaintiff that “if you stopped wearing perfume and tight uniforms, and stopped getting your hair done the inmates would stop masturbating at you.”

Besides the payment, the settlement would also require the Mobile County Sheriff to “not fail to take immediate appropriate corrective action to address inmate sexual misconduct toward female jail employees” and develop policies on sexual misconduct within the jail.

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Brian Lyman
Brian Lyman

Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006, and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Julie, and their three children.