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No Bias Against Female|Prison Guard, Jury Finds

EUREKA, Calif. (CN) - A jury cleared the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of recklessly disregarding a female prison guard by subjecting her to longtime sexual harassment by male inmates while supervisors did nothing about it.

In its verdict Wednesday, a jury found the department not guilty of discriminating against prison guard Martha Berndt because of her gender and exposing her to a hostile work environment by disregarding her complaints about male inmate behavior.

The case dates back to 2003, and was originally brought by ten current and former corrections officers who worked at various prisons throughout California. Berndt started as a prison guard in 1994 and said she was repeatedly sexually harassed by inmate Goldwire Jackson from 2001 to 2002, who masturbated in front of her.

The other guards included Marta Hastings, Sophia Curry, Shelly Adcock, Patricia Moreira, Karen Curry, Lisa Boyd, Kimberley Morin, Raisa Jeffries and Judy Longo, now deceased.

They said there have been more than 2,000 incidents of disgusting behavior directed at them by inmates since 1997, including 500 at Pelican Bay State Prison alone, and that the state has done nothing to stop it.

In 2012, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton denied the guards' request to proceed as a class, finding the women had failed to exhaust their administrative options and that a lack of commonality in their experiences with the inmates doomed their putative class action.

Longo, who died in 2003, was forced to retire rather than be terminated because she refused to give medication to an inmate who had a history of masturbating in front of both her and Berndt.

Berndt's case went to trial on Feb. 1, and the jury began its deliberations earlier this week. Her attorney, Sharon Arkin, did not respond to a request for comment.


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