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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Teamsters v. Washington Department of Corrections: Female Gender is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification for Certain Correctional Officers in Female Prison

In Teamsters Local Union No. 114 v. Washington Department of Corrections, ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. 6/12/15), the Department of Corrections (DOC) designated a "limited number of female-only correctional positions—specifically, 110 positions to patrol housing units, prison grounds, and work sites." The local union for correctional officers sued the DOC under Title VII, alleging that its policy discriminated against male correctional officers. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the State, the union appealed, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding as follows:

While Title VII prohibits employment practices that discriminate on the basis of sex, a facially discriminatory employment practice is allowed if sex is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the position. 

To justify discrimination under the BFOQ exception, an employer must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that: (1) the "job qualification justifying the discrimination is reasonably necessary to the essence of its business"; and (2) "sex is a legitimate proxy for determining" whether a correctional officer has the necessary job qualifications.
"Judgments by prison administrators that are the product of a reasoned decision-making process, based on available information and expertise, are entitled to some deference." The DOC in this case underwent an exhaustive process to determine that sex was a BFOQ for the positions at issue, and the DOC's judgment was entitled to deference.

Female gender was a BFOQ for the positions at issue. The DOC identified several reasons for placing only women into these positions: improving security, protecting inmate privacy, and preventing sexual assaults. Placing only women in these positions was reasonably necessary to the essence of prison administration. The employees' sex was a "legitimate proxy" for determining whether officers had the necessary job qualifications to meet these goals, and alternatives to the sex-based classification were "reasonably considered and refuted."

The opinion is available here

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