Department of Correction Retaliates Against Officers, Says ACLU

July 13, 2006 12:00 am

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Female Officers Who Were Sexually and Physically Assaulted Sue Over Discrimination

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) on behalf of two female officers who have faced departmental discrimination and retaliation for following procedures and reporting sexual and physical assaults by male officers.

“I did what I was supposed to,” said Danielle Simmonds, one of the plaintiffs in today’s case. “When I was assaulted, I reported it immediately to my supervisors, but they have never shown any concern or taken steps to investigate what happened to me. There are supposed to be procedures that protect officers who have been assaulted, but they have proven hollow, and I’ve been punished for speaking out.”

Danielle Simmonds is a 27-year-old mother of three who lives in the Bronx. She has been employed as a correction officer since 2001. In October 2005, Simmonds was sexually assaulted by a male co-worker while she was on duty in the middle of the night. She immediately reported her co-worker’s violent acts to her supervisor in the DOC, believing that the incident would be investigated and the perpetrator disciplined. Simmonds also hoped that the DOC would abide by New York City law, to make reasonable accommodations for victims of sexual assault.

Sonya Henderson is a Brooklyn woman who has worked as a correction officer since 1990. In March 2005, she was violently assaulted in her home by her then-boyfriend and co-worker. He beat her severely, causing extensive damage to one eye, her back and one ankle. The assailant was arrested for domestic violence and pled guilty to the attack. The DOC was immediately notified about the arrest and that the court issued Henderson an order of protection. However, contrary to official procedures, the DOC did not take disciplinary action against Henderson’s assailant despite repeated violations of the order of protection. Henderson has requested that the DOC take such action, or at the very least, that they notify her of the assailant’s schedule and his access to firearms.

The DOC failed to take any substantial action to address either of these situations or to provide Simmonds or Henderson with the protection they legally deserve. In violation of DOC regulations, they have been discriminated against and have suffered retaliation as a result of their complaints. Both women have been treated with hostility and suspicion by supervisors and have been subject to multiple disciplinary actions. To date, the officer charged with investigating Simmonds’ complaint has not contacted her, nor returned her numerous calls. She has been penalized with the loss of time off, her rights to exchange shifts with other officers and her right to work overtime for a higher wage; benefits she relied on as a single mother. Henderson has still not been notified as to the schedule of her assailant or whether he has access to firearms.

According to the ACLU complaint, DOC officials “harassed, berated, and mistreated Plaintiffs based on their sex and based on their status as victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. In addition, the DOC has retaliated against Plaintiffs because they asserted their rights under federal, state and local civil rights law and DOC policy. In treating Plaintiffs in this manner, Defendants violated federal, state and city law.”

Simmonds and Henderson have filed the lawsuit in hopes of resuming their previous employment status and to stop their rights from being violated. They also seek damages, the amount of which will be determined at trial.

“These women have had the strength to stand up to their attackers, to confront them and report their abusive conduct up the chain of command,” said Caroline Bettinger-Lopez of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Their courage has been rewarded with harassment, discrimination and retaliation by the Department of Correction. This institutional pattern of abuse must be stopped.”

Simmonds and Henderson are represented by Bettinger-Lopez, Emily Martin and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and John D. Lovi, Michael Rips, Lara Romansic and Marcia Yablon of Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

The compliant filed today is available online at:

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