Unions Lose on Prison "Discrimination"

A Teamsters challenge to plans for all-female hiring gets thrown out.

A little over a year ago, the Washington State Department of Corrections decided that many of the staff positions in its women's prisons should be filled by women. It might seem an uncontroversial decision, given the history of sexual abuse by corrections officers at women's prisons in this state.Yet Teamsters Local 117, which represents corrections officers, charged gender discrimination and filed a court challenge.State law generally prohibits gender discrimination in hiring, but makes an exception when "conventional standards of sexual privacy" are at stake. DOC asked the state Human Rights Commission 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 DOC 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.But the Teamsters contested the HRC's finding in court, arguing that the DOC could take other measures—using cameras, for instance—to ensure that sexual misconduct does not occur. Last week, the state appeals court dismissed the Teamsters' complaint. The judges didn't address the details of the policy. Instead, they ruled that the Teamsters had no grounds to contest the HRC's finding since it was purely advisory.Vail says the ruling is one more sign that the department is "on the right path."

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