A female corrections officer at the Maine State Prison and the Bolduc Correctional Facility, both in Warren, has sued the Department of Corrections in U.S. District Court in Bangor alleging sex and sexual orientation discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Autumn Dinsmore, 26, of Rockland is seeking unspecified damages and a change in the culture within the department, where she is one of a very few female correctional officers, the lawsuit said.
Marc Malon, spokesperson for the Maine attorney general’s office, which must defend the department, declined to comment on the lawsuit. It is the practice of the attorney general not to comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit was filed after the Maine Human Rights Commission in January and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last month found that the Department of Corrections engaged in unlawful sex discrimination and created a sex-based hostile work environment.
The Maine Human Rights Commission investigator’s report concluded that the department “knew or should have known about the harassment” Dinsmore was subjected to “and did nothing to stop it; instead, [the department] contributed to the hostile environment by disciplining [Dinsmore] more harshly than her male coworkers.”
The lawsuit alleges that the environment at the prison and prison farm is hostile to female correctional officers. Male officers and supervisors allegedly told Dinsmore and other female officers that women should not work at the prison.
Dinsmore was subjected to extra scrutiny, suspicion and unwarranted discipline because of the stereotype that female correctional officers are romantically interested in the men incarcerated at the prison, the complaint said. At the same time, male officers allegedly made inappropriate sexual advances and sent sexual photos to Dinsmore, and they openly discussed trying to have sex with female officers without consequences.
Even though Dinsmore, who is gay, rebuffed these advances by her male coworkers, her sexual orientation was repeatedly questioned in the workplace, the lawsuit alleged. One of her supervisors told her that she just hadn’t “found a real man” yet, and another supervisor told her male coworker on several occasions that he should try to sleep with her to “flip” her sexual orientation.
In addition, her supervisor and other officers openly used homophobic slurs and made homophobic jokes in Dinsmore’s presence, the complaint said.
Dinsmore’s attorney, Shelby Leighton of Augusta, said that the legal team is “hopeful that filing this lawsuit will lead to women employees of the prison finally being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
“Autumn has worked bravely and tirelessly for years to change the culture at Maine State Prison, which is abusive and unwelcoming to women, and gay women in particular,” she said.