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Best Sex Discrimination Attorney Answers: Am I An Employee Under Title VII?

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2014 | Sexual Harassment, Wrongful Termination |

Employment Discrimination Attorney Top Answers: Do I have a claim for sexual harassment? If I’m an inmate employed by the prison, can I file a sexual harassment and retaliation claim? How do I find a sexual harassment lawyer?

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful “for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s . . . sex.” Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination based on sex. But, who is an employee for purposes of invoking Title VII protection from sexual harassment?

Title VII broadly defines an employee as “an individual employed by an employer.” Is that definition expansive enough to include an inmate employed by the prison where she is incarcerated? The Iowa Supreme Court believes it is.

In Melissa Lee Renda vs. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, inmate Melissa Renda filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). The prison incarcerating Ms. Renda employed her as a receiving clerk. Ms. Renda was sexually harassed and retaliated against by a prison guard working in the same department. The guard made romantic overtures toward her and violated prison policy by giving her gifts and money. To cover up the violation, he forced Ms. Renda to forge a property receipt and threatened to transfer her to a state prison if she reported him. During a subsequent investigation of the guard, Ms. Renda refused to cooperate, was sent to solitary confinement for nine days, and was wrongfully fired from her clerk position shortly after getting out of solitary.

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Eventually Ms. Renda cooperated with the investigation. Investigators determined she was completely credible and her allegations legitimate. Despite this, the ICRC rejected her claim in part because it did not consider her an employee. A district court affirmed this decision (here) but, in 2010, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded it back to the district court.

The court found that inmates were not excluded “from protection against discrimination in employment within . . . prison” because the definition of employee is extremely broad, there are no explicit exceptions for inmates, and Iowa’s version of Title VII was designed to remedy the evils of employment discrimination. The court also held that determining whether an inmate is an employee must be reached case-by-case considering various factors, including: the position’s voluntariness; whether there was an application process; and, “the nature and extent of similarities between circumstances of the inmate’s job in the prison and jobs outside the penal context.”

After years of litigation Iowa recently agreed to settle the case for $71,000, which is a wonderful outcome considering Ms. Renda was only making $4.20 per day as a clerk.

So, an inmate working in a prison where she is incarcerated may be an employee for Title VII purposes. This holding, rightfully, expands the definition of employee and works to ensure that employers cannot avoid facing the consequences for their discriminatory actions by simply claiming that a worker is not covered by employment discrimination laws.

Sexual harassment is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar Ohio laws. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. If you feel that you are being sexually harassed or are working in a sexually charged or hostile working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney at 866-797-6040 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment lawyer/hostile work environment attorney to find out what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Sexual harrassment is a form of gender discrimination, and employers should be held accountable if they discriminate against female workers in any fashion – but particularly for sexual harrassment. It does not matter if you have been wrongfully fired or are still employed, there is no reason to wait to find out what your legal rights are and how to protect yourself from sexual harassment and gender discrimination.


The materials available at the top of this page and at this gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and sex harassment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking “what should I do …”, “I’m being sexually harassed …” “my supervisor grabbed my…”, “my boss is touching…,” “I’ve been wrongfully terminated,” or “how do I …”, your best course is to contact an Ohio sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to obtain advice with respect to sexual harassment/hostile work environment questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this employment law website are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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