Two gay female corrections officers who are partners have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Michelle Wood, who retired in October after 25 years of service, claims she began complaining about her treatment in 2008, which resulted in retaliatory investigations into alleged violations of work rules.
Wood’s partner, Sgt. Loretta Smith still works at the correctional facility and says she still endures harassment and discrimination. She says she’s also being retaliated against due to Wood’s repeated complaints.
Smith used to work at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ypsilanti. Smith and Wood said things got worse after Smith transferred to the Thumb in 2015, bringing them to the same workplace.
The lawsuit claims Wood and Smith “could not even converse or eat lunch together, as their heterosexual counterparts would, without judgment, looks, and comments from others.”
Wood alleges she has endured investigations that were completely unfounded and ones in which she was singled out for selective enforcement of prison rules.
For instance, Wood said she had complaints in 2017 for possession of an eyeglass case that she had carried into the prison for years and in 2018 for walking one of the dogs prisoners train at the prison to help veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorders and other disabilities. She said that other officers, who are mostly white males, have done the same thing and never have gotten in trouble.
In September 2018, Wood filed a complaint after a supervisor allegedly told her she needed to “start playing the game” and “kissing his ass.”
When Wood’s complaint about the supervisor was dismissed, they made Smith work nights. She had worked the day shift since 2016.
“It was to get at me because I wasn’t there,” said Wood, who had retired about three months earlier.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission says gay people are covered under the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex. Michigan’s former attorney general, Republican Bill Schuette, said in a 2018 opinion that gay and transgender people are not covered by the law. The current attorney general, Dana Nessel, however, doesn’t share Schuette’s opinion.
Right now, a petition is underway to try to ban discrimination against gay people explicit in state law.