Local News

State DOC: Female Prison Workers Treated Fairly After Sexual Harassment Claims

Posted May 24, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Two female employees at Raleigh's Central Prison say they were given different job assignments because they complained about sexual harassment. TheDepartment of Correctionsays the allegations are not true, and released the workers' personnel records Tuesday to prove it.

It is very unusual for a state agency to open up personnel records, but there is a law which allows them to do so if they believe the reputation of their office is at stake.

One might think that a woman working in an all-male prison would be afraid of the inmates.

"The inmates aren't the problem, they're the least of your problems," said LaVonda Armstrong, who claimed she was a victim of sexual harassment at Central Prison.

Armstrong says her former supervisor was her biggest problem. She and another female correctional officer, Elaine Jackson, say they were retaliated against after making sexual harassment complaints against supervisors.

"Once you write an officer up for sexual harassment, you're a big troublemaker," Armstrong said.

The Department of Correction did find the women were victims of inappropriate behavior. The men involved were reprimanded, but the DOC denies there was any retaliation.

"The allegations in accordance with our records have no basis," says Ron Gillespie, assistant director of human resources for the Department of Correction.

Gillespie questioned the women's credibility including the circumstances surrounding Jackson's original complaint.

"Prior to receiving an inappropriate comment from the lieutenant, she had told a sexually suggestive and off-color joke," Gillespie said.

Jackson admits telling the joke, but maintains that she was harassed. Gillespie also questioned Armstrong's history of telling the truth.

"During the course of a year, LaVonda has three written warnings," Gillespie said.

The warnings were for lying and failing to report to work, sleeping at her post and failing to report a criminal offense.

Armstrong accepts responsibility for her reprimands, but says they are not relevant to the harassment case.

"This is totally retaliation because I exposed this supervisor," Armstrong said. "It has nothing to do with my personnel file."

The Department of Correction has decided to do some new sexual harassment training for all of the employees in the prison system, which will take place on June 15.