A federal appeals court has reinstated the sex discrimination lawsuit of San Francisco sheriff’s deputies who challenged a policy banning male deputies from supervising female inmates at the county jail.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday reversed dismissal of the claims that the 2006 imposition of a single-sex staffing policy at the jail violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
In 2007, 35 current and former deputies, the majority of whom were female, sued claiming the policy constituted sex discrimination and violation of the state fair employment law.
Former San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey said he adopted the policy to protect female inmates from potential misconduct by male jailers, to maintain security in the face of potential for female inmates to manipulate male officers with false allegations of sexual misconduct and to protect the privacy of female inmates.
From 2001 to 2009, the county investigated 12 complaints of sexual misconduct between mail deputies and female inmates, all but two occurred before the 2006 policy change.
In 2011, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco issued a summary judgment in favor the county.
The appeals court held the county is not entitled to summary judgment on the claims because the county was unable to demonstrate there were no disputed facts that must be resolved by a jury.
“The district court appears to have granted the Sheriff’s judgment deference based primarily on his substantial qualifications, rather than on the characteristics of the decision-making process itself,” wrote Judge Mary Murguia for the panel. “This reasoning is not consistent with our precedent, which conditions deference on whether the decision-making process itself was reasoned and well-informed,” she said.
She added that there is no doubt protecting the safety of female inmates is an extremely important interest, but “the county has not met its burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute over whether excluding men from supervisory positions in female housing units is a legitimate proxy for requiring deputies in those positions not pose a threat to the safety of female inmates.”
Murguia was joined by Judges Stephen Trott and Sidney Thomas.
Case: Anderson v. San Francisco, No. 11-16746