A little over a year ago, the state Department of Corrections decided that many of the positions in its women's prisons should be filled by women. It might seem an uncontroversial decision given the history of sexual abuse at women's prisons in this state.
State law generally prohibits discrimination in hiring, but makes an exception when "conventional standards of sexual privacy" are at stake.
DOC asked the state Human Rights Commission as to determine that the exception applied in this case and the commission agreed. The DOC then increased the percentage of women guards at its female facilities from about 50 to 70, says DOC Secretary Eldon Vail. The department wanted to ensure that inmates would never be alone with only male guards in their cells or dorms, where they would be doing things like showering and dressing. The DOC has long had a policy requiring same-sex strip searches.
The Teamsters argued that the DOC could take other measures--using cameras, for instance--to insure that sexual misconduct does not occur, says Michael Beranbaum, who oversees Local 117's law enforcement division. The union contested the commission finding in court.
In ruling against the union today, the appeals court didn't address the details of the policy. Instead, it said that the Teamsters had no grounds to contest the commission's finding since it was purely advisory.
Vail says today's ruling is one more sign that the department is "on the right path."