State settles lawsuit over conditions for guards

LANSING (AP) — The state of Michigan agreed to pay about $750,000 and make other changes to settle a lawsuit on behalf of female guards who said their rights are being violated by mandatory overtime and other restrictions at the state’s only prison for women.

Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz said the state will lift a freeze on female officers transferring to other prisons. He told the Detroit Free Press that the state also will examine whether more jobs can be opened to male guards.

The deal would settle a lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department, which argued that Michigan can’t lock workers in or out of a job because of their sex. The Huron Valley women’s prison in Washtenaw County has many female guards because male guards, years ago, sexually assaulted prisoners.

The Michigan Corrections Organization, a union representing the guards, is not a party in the lawsuit but welcomed the settlement. Hundreds of female guards would share about $750,000.

The agreement still must be reviewed by a federal judge.

“MCO leaders hope this settlement brings some relief to the women corrections officers … who have sacrificed and worked 16-hour days to keep the prison running as safely and smoothly as they can,” said union president Byron Osborn.

Amber Dotson recently told the Free Press that she regularly works 12 hours or more per shift, getting up at 4:30 a.m. to report by 6 a.m. Her base salary is $52,000 a year, but she was already paid $44,000 by the end of July because of overtime.

“By the time we get an off day, we’re just too tired to do anything, whether it’s personal life or family,” Dotson, 46, said.

Separately, the Corrections Department is being sued by male guards in state court because of a lack of opportunities at the women’s prison.