Michigan Reformatory, Others Affected by Sexual Harassment
The Michigan Reformatory director, chief executive officer, and a correction officer were recently met. This was a sexual harassment lawsuit.
A federal lawsuit was recently filed against the director of the Michigan Reformatory, the chief executive, and a fellow guard on allegations of sexual harassment. The lawsuit was filed by Kristy Klenke, a correction officer. According to Klenke, Mario Cunningham, the correction officer mentioned in the suit, began sexually harassing her in June 2019.
Hammer; Image courtesy of Bloomsberries, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0, no changes made.
According to the lawsuit, “Cunningham and Klenke occasionally texted her outside of work and met a few times in person.” However, when Klenke found out that Cunningham was married and told other employees, Klenke felt uncomfortable as he continued to call her and her visited while she was at work.
Klenke pushed back against Cunningham’s progress and said she no longer wanted to have a personal relationship with him. Instead, she wanted to keep her interactions professional. However, he ignored her and continued texting her. At the end of 2019, he even sent her “flowers at work and embarrassed her,” says the suit. He also began changing her responsibilities, “sometimes to a more favorable position, to show her that a personal relationship with Cunningham would be beneficial to her.”
The harassment continued and eventually Klenke filed a harassment complaint with MDOC. According to Klenke’s attorney Hannah Fielstra, it was not the first time a complaint had been filed against Cunningham. Even after Klenke’s complaint was based on internal affairs, “the outcome of the investigation was changed to be unfounded.” In addition, according to the lawsuit, she “never received any follow-up measures or documents regarding the status of her complaint or a decision”. To make matters worse, Cunningham was never disciplined and he continued to sexually harass her.
“We know that women are already reluctant to speak out (for good reason) (about sexual harassment), which further undermines trust in a system designed to ensure fairness.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Kathy Warner, who oversees the Office of Executive Affairs, “changed the outcome of Klenke’s complaint from what she did in the past.”
Last July, Klenke filed another formal complaint against Cunningham when she learned that he was “talking to other officials about her” and he continued to harass her and make her feel uncomfortable. Shortly thereafter, she reached out to Warner to “express concerns about the way her original complaint was handled and said she was concerned that her second complaint would be treated in the same way,” according to the lawsuit. Eventually she overcame Klenke’s stress and she took unpaid stress vacations from October 1st to November 6th. Since her return, she has been “forced to work without a partner to support her and with the most undesirable tasks in prison. “She applied to be transferred to another prison, but was refused. Fielstra said:
“When the system goes down and the perpetrators of sexual harassment become undisciplined, it conveys the perception, and sometimes the unfortunate reality, that there is no consequence to behaving in things like sexual harassment … Sexual harassment is an emotional burden that you face every day bypass. “
In response to the allegations, Michigan Justice Department spokesman Chris Gautz made the following statement emailed:
“All employees are prohibited from engaging in discriminatory harassment, and managers and supervisors must report allegations as soon as they become aware of them. Retaliation is in no way acceptable or permitted. MDOC staff receive routine training on these important issues and it is made clear that the MDOC will not tolerate retaliation in any way. “
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Trial of the spotlight on prison officials, allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation