EEOC Finds Federal Bureau of Prisons Retaliated Against Female Employee Who Successfully Sued the Agency for Sexual Harassment

This story goes back to 2003 when Etta Traynham, a Recreational Specialist at the Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) Metropolitan Correctional Center, first complained to her supervisor about her co-worker’s sexual harassment. In response, BOP did nothing, and the sexual harassment got worse. Things only changed after Traynham retained Beranbaum Menken LLP, which in January 2007, brought a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction in U.S. District Court to restrain BOP from making her work with the harasser. The BOP then agreed that while the federal lawsuit was proceeding it would remove the harasser from Traynham’s workplace and not permit him to have any contact with her. See Traynham v. Gonzalez, 07 CIV. 436, 2007 WL 7233155 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 19, 2007). On the weekend before the trial was to begin, the parties settled the case. The settlement included a provision that Traynham would receive a transfer to the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta near where her family lived and where she would be free of the co-worker who had sexually harassed her.

After the settlement of the lawsuit, the BOP subjected Traynham to a series of retaliatory actions: the agency publicized her move to the Atlanta penitentiary when it was supposed to be remain confidential; it sustained charges that during the course of the federal lawsuit she had brought into the penitentiary “contraband,” better known as a tape recorder, which she used for the perfectly appropriate purpose of gaining evidence for her lawsuit; and it issued a Letter of Reprimand against her for “Unprofessional Conduct” (using a profanity, although her harasser had used much worse language and never was punished); and “Lack of Candor” (having the audacity to deny the truth of complaints made against her by the harasser’s best friend).

Beranbaum Menken on behalf of Traynham filed charges of retaliation against the BOP with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On April 28, 2014, after a three-day hearing, the EEOC Administrative Judge Monique J. Roberts issued a Decision upholding all of Traynham’s claims against the BOP for unlawful retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In her Decision, the Administrative Judge issued widespread relief. Because the retaliatory actions harmed Traynham’s chances of a promotion, the Administrative Judge ordered that the BOP offer Traynham a position one grade level above her current position, and pay her the difference between her current pay grade and the enhanced pay grade retroactive to May 2010. The Administrative Judge also ordered that BOP pay Traynham $50,000 in emotional distress damages and attorney’s fees.

The EEOC decision was a complete vindication of Traynham’s right to sue her employer for sexual harassment without fear of reprisal.