SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The 9th Circuit upheld a $600,000 jury award to a former prison guard who claimed jail officials fired her in retaliation for complaining that naked male inmates were harassing her by masturbating in front of her.
Deanna Freitag, a former corrections officer at Pelican Bay State Prison in Del Norte County, claimed that the maximum-security inmates regularly subjected female guards to “lewd exhibitionism and exhibitionist masturbation” and that prison officials’ failure to put a stop to it created a hostile work environment. She was fired in 2000, allegedly for complaining about the harassment, and filed a federal lawsuit against the corrections department, the warden and other prison officials.
A jury in San Francisco awarded her $500,000 for lost wages and $100,000 for emotional distress, but the 9th circuit remanded her case in light of a Supreme Court ruling that limited how much protection from retaliation government employees receive after they criticize their work conditions.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson found that the high court ruling did not impact Freitag’s case. The appellate panel agreed on a 2-1 vote to uphold the damages award.