Private Prison Company Dinged for $550,000

PHOENIX (CN) — One of the nation’s largest private prisons companies, GEO Group, will pay $550,000, apologize and make administrative changes to settle sexual harassment and retaliation claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

GEO Group agreed to the settlement Monday, prompted by two federal lawsuits — from the EEOC and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office — on behalf of 16 female employees at its Central Arizona Correctional Facility in Florence, east of Phoenix.

The harassment included a male manager grabbing and pinching the breasts of a female guard and supervisors and officers making sexually explicit comments to female officers.

One supervisor said women should be barefoot and pregnant, and other remarks included: “All I want to see of you is the top of your head bobbing up and down while you are on your knees,” according to the EEOC.

In another instance, a male employee forced a female employee onto a desk, shoved her legs apart and kissed her.

The EEOC and the attorney general say that after women spoke out about the harassment GEO retaliated against them.

Shares in GEO Group on the New York Stock Exchange were trading at $24.16 before the market opened Tuesday. The company reported $2.2 billion in income in 2016.

“Retaliation occurs all too often when employees complain about harassment and discrimination. In fact, over 45 percent of all charges the EEOC receives allege retaliation,” EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle said in a statement. “Retaliation can reinforce a hostile work environment by discouraging workers from reporting harassment and encouraging harassers to continue their mistreatment of other employees.”

GEO Group told Courthouse News that it does not tolerate sexual harassment.

“The GEO Group mandates zero tolerance towards all forms of sexual harassment in all its facilities. We believe that the range of individual settlements speaks to the nature of the individual claims,” the company said in a statement.

The lawsuits claim the offensive actions took place from 2006 to 2012.

The claims were dismissed by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in 2012, but the Ninth Circuit found the dismissal improper and reinstated the case in 2016.

“The claims included in the lawsuit took place between 2006 and 2012, 6-12 years ago, and no such claims have arisen since,” GEO Group said. “As a result of the settlement, the GEO Group has implemented additional measures including enhanced training, reporting, and monitoring.”

The $550,000 settlement will go to the women whose claims were dismissed and reinstated, but the settlement doesn’t stop at financial reparations.

GEO Group must send letters of regret to the women, provide them with employment references, and review its equal employment opportunity policies to ensure all complaints are thoroughly and impartially investigated.

Under the agreement, the alleged harassers will be designated as ineligible for rehire, notices of the consent decree will be posted in Florence facilities, and anti-discrimination training will be conducted.

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