MANHATTAN (CN) – Seven Rikers Island inmates can sue New York City on claims they were forced to undergo gynecological exams “each and every” time they entered the prison, a federal judge ruled.
The Department of Corrections subjected women entering Rose M. Singer Center, the only women’s facility on Rikers Island, to mandatory gynecological exams from November 1999 to April 2006, the women say.
They say that they were not told what the exam entailed and were punished or threatened if they refused to comply.
“Such exams are humiliatingly invasive and unconstitutional,” one woman’s complaint stated. “At times during the course of these embarrassing and humiliating forced exams, medical staff and correctional officers made offensive jokes about the female detainees’ genitals.”
Attorney Debra Greenberger told Courthouse News in a telephone interview, that her clients’ exams were “invasive and dehumanizing.”
“Often the women would cry,” she said, adding that the policy continued after its scheduled 2005 end date.
Her clients last reported an incident in April 2006, according to the complaint.
In 2002, the practice spurred a class action, McBean v. City of New York, which sought damages for the exams and strip searches. The city settled the claims for the strip searches, and several of the individual cases for the exams.
In the most recent case, the defendants include former Department of Corrections Commissioner Bernard Kerik; former DOC Department Chief Robert Davoren; former Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Thomas Frieden; former DHMH Deputy Commissioner James Capoziello; Prison Health Services; and Trevor Parks, M.D., the sole shareholder of P.H.S. Medical Services P.C., who oversaw its operations.
The defendants tried to get the claims tossed on procedural grounds, claiming the statute of limitations had expired.
But U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl ruled this week that the cases were timely because the prior class action tolled, or paused the clock on, the statute of limitations.
“[T]olling did not end until the gynecological class claims were actually dismissed from the litigation upon final approval of the 2010 Settlement Agreement,” Koeltl wrote. “Accordingly, the defendants’ motions to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaints as time-barred are denied.”
Virginia J. Nimick, a city lawyer, defended the exams in a statement.
“The exams were given as part of the medical intake process, and we believe the women provided consent and that the exams were appropriate,” Nimick said.