CCA has history of wage violations, poor treatment of employees
Human Rights Defense Center
For Immediate Release
August 22, 2014 – For Immediate Release
Corrections Corporation of America Has Long History of Wage Violations, Poor Treatment of Employees
Nashville, TN – On Wednesday, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison operator, issued a press release that attempted to put a positive spin on $8 million in back wages the company had agreed to pay to over 360 employees at one of its facilities.
CCA claimed the payment for back wages at the California City Correctional Center was due
to a “retroactive contract modification” by federal officials, and said it had “diligently” worked with the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure employees received the wages they were due. CCA was also accused of failing to make required payments to employees’ retirement and health and life insurance accounts, as well as violations related to “inaccurate recording of breaks, lunches and overall hours worked,” according to the Associated Press.
“We greatly value our employees and the important work that they do to keep our communities safe and secure,” wrote CCA spokesman Steve Owen.
However, the company did not mention that it has repeatedly been sued by its own employees for failing to pay required wages. In fact, CCA settled an earlier wage and hour lawsuit involving the California City Correctional Center for an undisclosed amount in 2004, and has paid millions to resolve other wage-related cases over the past dozen years.
Most recently, on August 13, 2014, a federal court in Kentucky unsealed a settlement in a wage and hour lawsuit filed against CCA. The case had settled in November 2013, with the company agreeing to pay $260,000 to supervisors who claimed they were denied overtime and required to work extra hours without compensation. The settlement was unsealed – over CCA’s objections – after Prison Legal News (PLN), a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, intervened in the case to make the settlement public.
Also, in August 2009 the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas unsealed a $7 million settlement agreement in a nationwide class-action wage and hour lawsuit against CCA. The suit, brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, alleged that CCA had required some employees to perform work duties “without compensating them for all such hours worked.” Specifically, the company was accused of not paying correctional officers and other employees for pre- and post-shift work that included roll calls, obtaining weapons and equipment, attending meetings and job assignment briefings, and completing paperwork.
Again, the settlement was unsealed, over CCA’s objections, after Prison Legal News intervened to unseal details of the agreement, which applied to more than 30,600 potential class members.
"The public has a right to know how its tax dollars are being spent when government agencies contract with for-profit companies like CCA to operate prisons and jails, especially when such companies are accused of violating the law to increase their profit margins,” said PLN managing editor and Human Rights Defense Center associate director Alex Friedmann.
Additionally, according to records produced by CCA, in 2002 the company paid $2 million to resolve three federal lawsuits filed by employees in Mississippi under the Fair Labor Standards Act. And according to a report issued last year by Grassroots Leadership, in 2000 the company had settled lawsuits alleging wage and hour violations at the CCA-operated Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana and San Diego Correctional Facility in California.
Further, CCA has faced litigation related to employment discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment at the company’s for-profit prisons.
For example, CCA entered into a consent decree with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on October 1, 2009, agreeing to pay $1.3 million to settle allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation involving female employees at the Crowley County Correctional Facility in Colorado, operated by Dominion Correctional Services and later by CCA.
According to the lawsuit, female staff members were subjected to “unlawful sexual harassment and gender-based harassment.” The complaint alleged female employees had been hired based on whether they might be “easy to get to bed.” After being hired they were “routinely groped, pawed, and physically assaulted by male management and male co-workers.” Those who complained were subjected to retaliation, such as false charges to justify retaliatory discipline, assignments to areas where there was an increased risk of harm, and intentionally assigning female employees to work with their alleged harassers.
In 2007, CCA paid $438,000 to settle claims of discriminatory hiring practices at the company’s Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence; the U.S. Department of Labor said CCA violated federal law by disproportionately rejecting non-Hispanic job applicants who sought employment during a two-year period. The company agreed to hire 16 applicants who had been rejected, but denied any wrongdoing.
And in 2002, CCA agreed to pay $152,000 in back wages to 96 women who had applied for jobs at the company’s facility in Sayre, Oklahoma but were not hired. The settlement was reached after an audit by the U.S. Department of Labor found that female applicants with equal or better qualifications than their male counterparts had been rejected due to their gender.
According to a list of lawsuits against CCA produced by the company itself, CCA has settled dozens of individual complaints filed by current and former employees raising claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination.
Additionally, a federal jury in Oklahoma found that CCA had violated the rights of a military veteran by failing to retain his job position after he returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Jurors recommended in August 2010 that the company pay veteran Dennis Weems around $53,000 for violating his rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, which prohibits employers from denying re-employment, retention in employment, promotion or any benefit of employment to a member of the military on the basis of his or her military service.
An attorney for CCA admitted that mistakes had been made. Weems claimed CCA had violated the rights of other veterans who returned to their jobs at the company following military service, such as re-hiring them at lower pay rates.
“It appears that in some cases, CCA treats its own employees with the same distain that it treats prisoners held in the company’s for-profit facilities,” said Friedmann, who served six years at a CCA-operated prison in the 1990s prior to his release in 1999.
In May 2013, at CCA’s annual shareholder meeting, Friedmann had requested a brief moment of silence for company employee Catlin Carithers, who had been murdered during a riot at the Adams County Correctional Facility in Mississippi. His request was flatly denied by CCA board president John Ferguson.
“CCA holds a shareholder meeting just once a year, and they couldn’t give 30 seconds to honor the memory of one of their own who died in the line of duty,” Friedmann said at the time. “That is callous and insensitive. It is also indicative of the value that CCA places on its employees.”
The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 9,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.
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