Settlement reached in federal lawsuit filed by prison guard

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WARREN — The state has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of a corrections officer who said he endured a hostile work environment both because of his gender and his sexual orientation while worked at Maine State Prison and Bolduc Correctional Facility.

Magistrate Judge John Nivision noted in a May 9 filing in the U.S. District Court in Bangor that he was told a settlement had been reached by mutual agreement in the case brought on behalf of Autumn. Dinsmore in July 2021.

The lawsuit was filed six months after the Maine Human Rights Commission voted 2 to 1 at its January 2021 meeting that there were reasonable grounds to believe the Maine Department of Corrections created a hostile work environment and treated her differently.

The lawsuit detailed how the woman was a frequent recipient of unwanted sexual overtures from male officers, including officers who sent pictures of their genitals on Snapchat, prompting her to send nude photos back.

The woman and other female officers also heard male officers making inappropriate comments about having sex with policewomen and talking about the competition to see who could sleep with a new female officer first.

“This refusal of his male colleagues and superiors to accept (woman’s) sexual orientation matches workplace culture treating AC women as sex objects and the traditional ideology that lesbians are unlikely to exist because women can’t resist sexual attraction to men,” the lawsuit said.

The woman was seeking punitive damages, lost wages and civil rights training for the next two years for staff.

The terms of the settlement have not yet been released. The Maine Department of Corrections said Friday that while the case has been resolved, there is no written settlement yet to be provided. The Courier-Gazette asked for a copy as soon as they were signed.

There was no immediate response to an email sent Thursday morning to Augusta attorney David Webbert, who is Dinsmore’s lead attorney.

“From almost the start of her employment, she was subjected to comments from male colleagues about their poor opinion of women working in the prison,” said the report by human rights investigator Kit Thomson Crossman.

Dinsmore began working at the prison in February 2017. She filed the complaint with the Human Rights Commission in April 2019. She then went to work at Bolduc Institution.

The investigator said the woman was asked if she chose the job “for a trial or to fall in love”. The female correctional officer was also told by a male correctional officer that female prison staff had a reputation for getting into trouble with prisoners.

A guard frequently ordered her to work in a cell where prisoners told her they were in love with her, even though a sergeant had previously removed her from that cell for this reason.

“Gender-based comments were pervasive and it appears that the attitudes of her colleagues led to the complainant being disciplined,” the investigator found.

“For example, within a week of a disagreement with three male co-workers, at least one of whom made derogatory comments about women working with male prisoners, those male co-workers reported the complainant for alleged over-familiarity with a prisoner after listening to his conversations with the prisoner.

“The Respondent knew or should have known about the harassment and did nothing to stop it; instead, the Respondent contributed to the hostile environment by disciplining the Complainant more harshly than her male colleagues,” according to the investigator’s findings.

The guard was harassed by a former inmate, according to the investigator. The warden accessed the former prisoner’s contact details on the prison’s computer system so she could contact him to tell him to stop harassing her.

The prison administration discovered that she had violated Department of Corrections policy by breaking into the computer system. She was given a two-week suspension without pay.

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