Behind bars, male inmates masturbating in front of female employees is so common there’s a word for it: gunning. Ceneca Valdez, a counselor at Miami-Dade County’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, says she experienced it repeatedly on the job, along with vulgar comments and gestures.
When she told her supervisors about the problem, her concerns fell on deaf ears. Now she’s suing Miami-Dade County, claiming jail leaders failed to address sexual harassment of female employees by inmates, treating it as “an inherent part of the job.”
“‘Gunning’ significantly interfered with Plaintiff’s job performance by distracting, embarrassing, frightening and humiliating Plaintiff while she was attempting to perform the duties and responsibilities of her position,” reads the complaint, which was filed last week in Miami federal court by Hollywood attorney Brian Militzok. “‘Gunning’ also interfered with Plaintiff’s mental health.”
Miami-Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation Department spokesman Juan Diasgranados told New Times he could not comment on pending litigation.
Valdez, who could not immediately be reached for comment, began working for the corrections department in July 2016. She was initially assigned to the Pre-Trial Detention Center before being moved to Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in November 2016.
As part of her job, Valdez was required to have daily face-to-face contact with inmates. She says while she worked, inmates exposed themselves and used derogatory words for women.
Her attempts to remedy the situation were either ignored or refused by higherups, she says. She asked permission to use an inner path through the jail rather than go around the narrow perimeter that ran near the cells. Although nurses were allowed to use the alternative path, she says, her request was denied, exacerbating the issue.
Valdez also asked for a radio, walkie-talkie, or panic button that would help calm her concerns. That request also went unfulfilled despite officials’ promises.
“Plaintiff was generally made to walk the narrow perimeter of cells by herself and was routinely denied her request for another officer to accompany her,” the complaint says.
The county’s written policies about harassing behavior are ineffective, Valdez says. Moreover, reporting masturbation or harassment was strongly discouraged by her supervisors.
Valdez, whose job at the corrections department ended in July 2017, says she’s suffered emotional distress and embarrassment. She’s seeking damages and a judgment declaring the county’s actions a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, or religion.