Plaintiff in DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office sexual harassment lawsuit: ‘I was in survival mode’

Deputy Warden of Security Keith Eutsey, left, and Warden Bruce Chatman walk to the execution chamber along rows of barbed wire at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

On the Tuesday edition of “Closer Look,” attorney James Radford and client Ebony Boswell discuss a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Melody Maddox alleging the department ignored reports of sexual harassment of female staff by inmates.

The lawsuit, filed weeks ago in the name of current and former correctional officers and techs, alleges continued unsafe working conditions within the jail under the purview of Maddox.

As the case has progressed, the firm has been contacted by several former employees interested in pursuing litigation. Six plaintiffs are currently named in the lawsuit. 

“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment. That includes discrimination on the basis of sex — which includes the maintenance of a sexually hostile working environment for employees,” Radford said. “The gist of our complaint is that the female staff at the jail were not protected by the sheriff’s office and the command staff.”

Inmates openly harassed female staff in the prison. Boswell — employed by the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office since 2005 — described a growing culture of fear and danger among the mostly female staff. Boswell and other staff voiced their concerns to prison supervisors, who they say did not carry out significant action surrounding the environment.

“I didn’t want to go to work. I didn’t want to go into the pods. I didn’t want to do anything because I was afraid of being snatched or hurt or sexually assaulted,” Boswell said.

Boswell was subjected to taunting and pointed sexual harassment by inmates due to supervisor inaction. 

She continued, “I was in a survival mode when I clocked in and when I went home. I was in survival mode. I did what I had to do to do my job efficiently and safely as well as not putting myself in harm’s way. I loved my job. I love doing what I do … [but] my peace of mind is worth more than a paycheck.”

The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the pending litigation.