Feb 21, 2024 - News

Lawsuit claims Virginia prison agency's body searches discriminate against women

Illustration of a gavel sticking through the bars of a jail door.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Women formerly and currently employed at the Virginia Department of Corrections are suing the agency over its policies requiring everyone to be body scanned upon entering a correctional facility, reports the Virginia Mercury.

Why it matters: The lawsuit alleges that the body-scanner technology discriminates based on gender since it can't distinguish between drugs and menstrual products, which has led women to being strip searched — and at times fired — for using tampons or intrauterine devices.

By the numbers: Of the agency's 13,000 employees, nearly 46% are women, according to the lawsuit.

  • That figure doesn't include the additional 1,000 people contracted through staffing companies.

Details: Mallory Patterson, one of the people suing, said in the lawsuit that she was flagged for a menstrual cup and told to either comply with a strip search or be fired and potentially face criminal charges.

  • After consenting to the search to keep her job and crying, a corrections officer allegedly told her, "This happens to some staff every year and each one of them feels just like you do right now."
  • She later resigned.
  • Emily Comer, a licensed practical nurse and another person suing, said she was told by the warden she wasn't allowed back "due to suspicious body scans" after the technology detected her IUD.

Catch up fast: In 2018, VADOC instituted a now-suspended policy that barred women visitors from wearing tampons into the facilities due to the shortcomings of its body scanners.

  • The Virginia Mercury reported in 2022 when a federal jury ruled VADOC had discriminated against a dental hygienist who was fired after a body scanner detected a tampon.
  • She was accused of bringing contraband into the prison.
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