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Female workers sue Virginia prison agency, claiming body searches discriminate against women • Virginia Mercury

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses a class-action lawsuit filed by three former and current female employees of the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) against the agency. The lawsuit alleges that VADOC's policies on body scanners discriminate against women by failing to distinguish between contraband and menstrual products, leading to strip searches and termination of employment.

🙋 Q&A

[01] Three Former and Current Female Employees File Lawsuit

1. What are the key allegations made in the lawsuit?

  • The lawsuit alleges that VADOC's body scanner technology is unable to distinguish between contraband and menstrual products like tampons, menstrual cups, and intrauterine devices.
  • This has led to multiple women being strip searched and in some cases terminated for using menstrual products.
  • The lawsuit claims this conduct is sex discrimination in violation of federal law.

2. Who are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit?

  • The plaintiffs are Mallory Patterson, Emily Comer, and Carla McDowney, who are former and current female employees of VADOC.

3. What is the status of the lawsuit?

  • The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in November.
  • VADOC has until February 24 to file a response to the lawsuit.

[02] Previous Discrimination Case and VADOC's Response

1. What was the outcome of the previous discrimination case against VADOC?

  • In September 2022, a federal jury found VADOC had discriminated against dental hygienist Joyce Flores when it fired her after a body scanner detected a tampon she was wearing.
  • The court later awarded Flores around $287,000 in damages, costs, and attorney's fees.

2. How has VADOC responded to the current lawsuit?

  • VADOC spokesperson Kyle Gibson stated that the agency "does not routinely comment on active or pending litigation."
  • The agency has not provided information on whether it has changed its policy on body scanners after the Flores ruling.

[03] Experiences of Female Employees

1. What were the experiences of the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit?

  • Mallory Patterson was given the choice of being strip searched or losing her job after a body scanner detected her menstrual cup.
  • Carla McDowney was told she would lose her job if she did not consent to a strip search after a body scanner detected her tampon and sanitary pad.
  • Emily Comer was informed she was not allowed back into the facility due to "suspicious body scans" related to her IUD.

2. What were the experiences of other female employees as described in the article?

  • Some women told Joyce Flores that they would "push their limits with the feminine products so they wouldn't have to change them" while at work.
  • Flores said she was aware that other women were having trouble feeling comfortable while menstruating at work.

[04] VADOC's Policies and Procedures

1. What are the key points about VADOC's policies and procedures regarding body scanners and searches?

  • VADOC's standard operating procedures require all people entering a correctional facility, including employees, to go through body scanners.
  • When an unknown object is detected, the facility can authorize a strip search of the employee.
  • Employees can be barred from the facility and potentially terminated for refusing to submit to a search.
  • VADOC has argued the scanners are necessary to crack down on contraband, but internal memos have acknowledged the scanners cannot differentiate between menstrual products and contraband.

2. Has VADOC made any changes to its policies after the previous discrimination case?

  • It is unclear if VADOC has updated its operating procedures since the Flores case, as the agency did not provide a response to a request for the current policies.
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