An Alabama sheriff has hit out at a group of female corrections officers accusing them of a ‘money grab’ days after the Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against him and his office claiming they failed to stop the women being sexually harassed by male inmates.
The DOJ sued Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran and his office, Alabama’s second-largest sheriff’s office, Wednesday claiming they discriminated against female staff members by subjecting them to a ‘sexually hostile work environment’ at the Mobile County Metro Jail in southwest Alabama.
The suit, which seeks financial damages for the staffers, claims Cochran and his office failed to take action to tackle the harassment which included inmates exposing themselves to the women, masturbating in front of them, threatening them with sexual violence, and making sexual slurs or degrading comments.
It comes seven years after 12 current and former female corrections officers at the facility lodged sexual discrimination charges with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) demanding a payout.
Cochran refused to reach a settlement in 2016 and the EOCC referred the complaint to the DOJ.
The sheriff said he was now ‘flabbergasted’ by the DOJ’s decision last week, as he vowed to fight the suit, insisted several changes had already been made to working conditions in recent years and slammed the women for pursuing ‘a bunch of money.’
Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran (above) hit out at a group of female corrections officers accusing them of a ‘money grab’ days after the DOJ filed a civil rights lawsuit against him and his office claiming they failed to stop the women being sexually harassed by male inmates
Cochran with his wife Sabrina. The DOJ sued Cochran and his office Wednesday claiming they discriminated against female staff members by subjecting them to a ‘sexually hostile work environment’ at the Mobile County Metro Jail in southwest Alabama
He described it as a ‘money grab’ and said he refused to consider compensating the women over the alleged harassment at the time.
‘I just felt like it was a money grab. I just couldn’t rightfully say let’s settle and pay a bunch of money out,’ he told NBC15.
‘I feel like that’s a decision for the citizens of south Alabama to decide if we go to court on this. Let them decide.’
Cochran dismissed the severity of the harassment claiming the women did not suffer ‘great harm’ and that no one had been sexual assaulted while working at the jail.
‘I don’t feel like the corrections officers have suffered great harm, we’ve certainly… under our control… we have not subjected them to the sexual harassment, it’s the inmates and it’s… for the most part it’s out of our control,’ he told Fox 10.
‘Not a single case that I’m aware of has a corrections officer ever been physically sexually assaulted in our jail.’
The jail has introduced several measures to protect female staff since concerns were first raised in 2015, he said.
These included investing $1 million to upgrade to its surveillance camera system and replacing locks that inmates were able to pick to break into the jail dayroom and sexually harass the officers.
The Mobile County Metro Jail in southwest Alabama (pictured). The suit claims Cochran and his office failed to take action to tackle the harassment
But Cochran said the DOJ contacted him about a month ago with the offer of reaching a settlement for ‘sums and sums of money’.
Cochran refused and the suit will instead now be taken to a jury.
The DOJ is seeking financial compensation for the affected female employees and a requirement that the sheriff’s office implements policies to both prevent sexual harassment and tackle instances of it at the jail going forward.
In the complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama March 10, the DOJ claims female staff members were regularly subjected to ‘severe and pervasive’ sexual harassment by male inmates who ‘frequently expose their genitals, masturbate, and direct sexual slurs, sexual propositions, threats of sexual violence and sexually degrading comments towards female employees’.
The suit claims employees reported ‘hundreds’ of instances of harassment to supervisors on multiple occasions but the sheriff and his office failed to take their complaints seriously.
The suit cites instances of inmates exposing themselves to the women, masturbating in front of them, threatening them with sexual violence, and making sexual slurs or degrading comments
More than 73 percent of staff members at the jail are women.
After their complaints were said to be repeatedly ignored, 12 women filed sex discrimination charges with the EEOC which launched a probe.
The investigation found there was sufficient basis to believe the women were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment, but, after Cochran refused to reach a settlement, the charges were referred to the DOJ in 2016.
It comes seven years after 12 current and former female corrections officers at the facility lodged sexual discrimination charges against the sheriff (above) demanding a huge payout
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Civil Rights Division described the failure to protect the women as ‘inexcusable.’
‘Nobody deserves to be sexually harassed while on the job,’ she said in a press release announcing the suit.
‘The behavior to which these female employees were subjected is appalling, and the County’s failure to take action to protect its employees from such conduct is inexcusable.’
One current female worker and one former staffer, neither of whom are named in the suit, told Fox 10 the work environment at the jail ‘bothers your mental state’ and was ‘very nasty.’
They said they would be subjected to the male inmates exposing themselves and masturbating in front of them often multiple times per day.
‘They come to the glass, they bold about it. You’re looking to see is everything okay, you’re not looking to see a man sitting there groping himself,’ one of the women recounted.
Cochran (pictured with his wife) refused to settle at the time and says he is now ‘flabbergasted’ by the DOJ’s decision, as he vowed to fight the suit, insisted several changes had already been made to working conditions and slammed the women for pursuing ‘a bunch of money’
‘They would literally switch beds so the other inmate could see you so that he can do what he needs to do, they would walk to the front of the cell so that they could see you and do what they need to do.
‘And it’s like you’re actually getting raped from a distance and the saddest part about it is you have to face this person everyday.’
The women echoed the complaints made in the suit that supervisors ‘brushed off’ the incidents and would not bring charges against the inmates.
‘I feel like if the charges are brought against the inmates for what they’re doing it would stop a lot of it,’ one of the women said.
The women questioned how far the harassment may go before it is acted upon: ‘You have to do your job, but they’re making it harder by what they do. Who’s to say that they won’t go to the next level?’