On-the-job bullying

Posted on 19 Aug 2016 at 7:00am

Male guard in private prison charges employer with sexual harassment

Isaiah-Smith

Isaiah Smith

 

DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

Isaiah Smith is suing his former employer, Management & Training Corporation, for sex discrimination.

MTC is a Utah-based corporation that operates for-profit prisons, including one in Bridgeport, northwest of Fort Worth, where Smith was employed.
Smith said the bullying began from the day he started the job. Although he never told anyone he was gay, he said they assumed it from his mannerisms but he described the harassment as “non-stop.”

“It was like hell,” he said.

In June 2014, Smith began his on-the-job training where he was paired for training with Blake Wortman.

According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Wortman “routinely and habitually inquired about Plaintiff Smith’s homosexual lifestyle, inquired and speculated about his sexual activities aloud, and compared [and] contrasted their own sexual activities with those which they imagined Plaintiff Smith might engage in as a homosexual male.”

Smith was 19 years old at the time.

Smith complained about the harassment to Wortman’s supervisor, Pamela Galloway. Her advice was to “man up” and “act like a man.”

A female nurse at the facility witnessed Wortman’s behavior and reported that she was being subjected to a sexually hostile work environment as well. Her complaint was promptly investigated and action taken.

Both Smith and Wortman were called into the supervisor’s office. Wortman took full responsibility for it, admitting he had engaged in inappropriate behavior toward the nurse and that Smith hadn’t used any inappropriate language. However, both Wortman and Smith were warned against such behavior.

Smith’s attorney, Michael Hindman, described him as baffled that a complaint by a female employee of sexually hostile work environment was handled immediately while his repeated complaints were ignored. When he requested to be paired with someone other than Wortman, he was told further complaints would result in his termination.

Through the end of his training, Smith was tormented. Officers joked he walked “in a feminine way,” that he was flirting with inmates and was going to raped.

When he completed his training, he was assigned to “D Card,” where the harassment continued. Fellow employees said he was not man enough to do his job because he is gay.

His supervisor responded to complaints by preventing Smith from doing certain duties. Among them were strip searches, because that would make the inmates uncomfortable.

His attorney said that if he was unable to perform certain duties, there’s no chance for advancement.

“He’ll be relegated to the bottom of the barrel,” Hindman said.

When he complained, the response was that being gay was the problem, not the sexual harassment.

Smith was threatened that he would be terminated if an inmate complained he witnessed Smith “licking his lips.” Smith assumed that meant his supervisor thought he couldn’t do his job because he is gay and would automatically be attracted to every inmate in prison.

When his supervisor refused to put an end to the harassment, Smith requested a meeting with the warden, Robert Treon. Instead of taking any action, Treon dismissed the complaint as “guy talk.”

Smith decided at this point he could no longer work under these conditions. He told his supervisor he wouldn’t return to work until he could be assured the verbal harassment and retaliation for making complaints stopped.

He requested a transfer and was denied. Instead, he was placed on unpaid leave.

After several weeks, MTC contacted Smith that they determined he had been subjected to a hostile work environment under Wortman, but that issue was resolved and they didn’t believe the current complaints.

Since he couldn’t agree with the conclusion, Smith was discharged.

The case is very similar to that of Derek Boyd, a Collin County prison guard whose story appeared in last week’s Dallas Voice. Smith was harassed to the point of his life being put in danger when other guards wouldn’t respond to Boyd’s calls for backup help after months of harassment based on his sexual orientation.

One difference in the case is that Boyd worked for a public employer, while Smith worked for a private company. That shouldn’t make a difference in eligibility for damages under Title VII.

“In creating and/or allowing a sexually hostile work environment to go without remedy in spite of repeated complaints by Plaintiff, Defendant MTC’s conduct constitutes discrimination because of sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Hindman wrote in Smith’s lawsuit.

Both suits quote the U.S. Supreme Court case Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, a unanimous opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia that concludes that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment, while not the original intent of legislators who wrote the law, is actionable under Title VII.

In the case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, held that discriminatory employment practices that are based on gender-stereotyping is discrimination “because of . . . sex,” and covered by Title VII.

Smith is requesting reinstatement, back pay, compensation for lost benefits, emotional distress, pain and suffering, exemplary damages, attorney’s fees, costs including expert witness fees and “Such other and further relief to which Plaintiff may be entitled.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2016.

 

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