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Washtenaw County Jury Sides with State in MDOC Employment Lawsuit

LANSING - A unanimous jury has sided with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) in Washtenaw County Circuit Court involving staff at the Women's Huron Valley (WHV) Correctional Facility, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced today.

In 2009, MDOC designated specific positions at the state's women's prison that could only be filled by female officers. Those are referred to as bona fide occupational (BFOQ) positions. The move was done for the protection of prisoners and staff given officers in these positions would conduct pat-down searches of female prisoners, potentially observe female prisoners in a state of undress, and/or interact with female prisoners in isolated, one-on-one circumstances.

Current and former male officers at the women's prison - led by plaintiff Tom Nowacki in a suit first filed in 2011 - claimed the positions discriminated against them based on their gender and led to being denied overtime opportunities. In the case, they sought millions of dollars of taxpayer money in damages they felt they were owed.

This afternoon, following a trial lasting more than a week before Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Archie Brown, the jury unanimously found that the BFOQ positions were justified to accomplish the central mission of the MDOC at WHV of protecting the female prisoners.

"There is a clear difference between policies that ensure safety and policies that foment discrimination. MDOC's approach to staffing the Women's Huron Valley Correction Facility is an example of a reasonable policy that best keeps prisoners and staff safe," Nessel said. "I appreciate the jury's thorough consideration of this serious matter."

"This is great news for the department, and we are beyond pleased to see the jury unanimously ruled in our favor," MDOC Director Heidi Washington said. "We have policies in place to keep prisoners and staff safe and we are so grateful this jury understood that, and that the actions we took were reasonable and justified."