Arizona to pay $100k to settle suit alleging harassment by prison officers

The state of Arizona has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former corrections officer who alleged his co-workers and supervisors repeatedly harassed him over his status as a transgender man.

The lawsuit, which was tentatively settled Thursday, alleged colleagues used derogatory terms to refer to the officer and put his safety at risk by revealing to inmates that he had undergone a gender transition.

The officer, who filed the lawsuit under a pseudonym due to safety and privacy concerns, alleged the Department of Corrections responded inadequately to his complaints and that the harassment continued after he was transferred to another facility.

Unable to tolerate the harassment, the officer resigned in 2016 after working nearly 11 years in state prisons in Florence and Douglas, according to the suit.

“He made his point and wants to live in peace and anonymity,” the officer’s attorney, Stephen Montoya, said of the settlement.

The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the settlement. In court records, the agency denied corrections officers and supervisors made offensive comments about the officer and that the harassment continued after complaints were made.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who presides over the case, said in a ruling in July that there’s no evidence that the agency investigated most of the officer’s complaints.

One such complaint came after the tires on the officer’s vehicle were slashed during 2010 in a prison parking lot.

The judge said a deputy warden didn’t respond to the complaint, so the officer raised his concerns with a warden, who agreed that the officer had reason to fear for his safety and transferred him.

Still, the judge said the agency didn’t do an official investigation into the vandalism -- and the offensive comments continued.

Snow said the officer didn’t report every incident of alleged harassment and that some officers who made offensive comments were reprimanded. Still, Snow said the supervisors didn’t take corrective action.

The judge said a jury could find in his favor on his hostile work environmental claim.

“His supervisors regularly disregarded his requests to conceal his status for the purpose of protecting his safety, and repeatedly engaged in behavior that may be considered harassment by a jury,” Snow wrote.

But the judge said the officer failed to point to facts that would let jurors conclude his resignation was essentially forced by deteriorating work conditions.