NY State Corrections Department to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Sex Bias

The New York State Department of Correctional Services will pay nearly $1 million to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the two offices announced this week. EEOC and the United States had charged the Corrections Department with violating federal law by providing inferior benefits to female employees on maternity leave. The Corrections Department is the New York state government entity responsible for the confinement and habilitation of approximately 63,000 inmates held at 69 state correctional facilities across the state, including approximately 1,700 at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y., where this action originated.

The lawsuit, filed under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (Case No. 07-CV-2587 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York), charged that the Corrections Department gave male employees with work-related injuries up to six months of paid worker's compensation leave. Female employees could be granted the same leave, but pregnant employees on such leave were involuntarily switched to maternity leave at or around the time they gave birth. The Corrections Department's maternity leave policy requires that women first use their accrued sick or vacation leave with pay; then, if approved, sick leave with half pay and then sick leave without pay. EEOC charged that switching women from worker's compensation leave to maternity leave resulted in lesser benefits for those women due to their sex and thus violated the Equal Pay Act, a federal law requiring that employers pay men and women equally for equal work.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York joined the lawsuit by adding claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. Attorney's Office alleged that the Corrections Department engaged in a pattern and practice of employment discrimination on the basis of sex as a result of its categorical determination that a female employee who gives birth to a child should be transferred from worker's comp leave and benefits without making a determination whether, on an individual basis, an employee continues to be eligible for worker's comp leave and benefits.

On May 20, the court granted final approval of an Order and Stipulation Providing for Injunction and Affirmative Relief, which provides $972,000 in compensatory damages, liquidated damages, back pay, and interest to 23 female Corrections employees. The back pay, which includes the value of leave some women were forced to take, has already been paid. The order also contains a modification provision whereby the court may order additional monetary relief to additional victims who are identified following the settlement.

Also in the order, which is subject to monitoring by EEOC, the United States, and the court for up to five years, the Corrections Department agreed to several elements of injunctive relief as to all its facilities statewide. It has amended its worker's comp directive to provide that no female Corrections officer shall be removed from worker's comp benefits due to pregnancy or the birth of a child, and it will provide anti-discrimination training to employees across the state, along with training in the administration of worker's comp benefits to its personnel employees. The Corrections Department also will give to each female employee preparing to take a maternity leave a packet of all applicable policies, procedures, and benefits.

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