by Antonio Ponvert III
August 8, 2002
Ladies and gentleman, thank you for coming today.
Under the best of circumstances, the Connecticut Department of Correction is a dangerous and difficult workplace. This state's prisons are populated by violent and predatory sexual offenders, by men who lack even the most remote respect for human life, and by the most depraved and uncivilized members of our society. The women who choose this line of work are among the finest and most courageous of our public servants.
Unfortunately, however, for many years, the women employees of the Department of Correction have suffered a far more pervasive, a far more insidious, and a far more damaging environment than even the sick and dangerous inmates could inflict upon them.
Unfortunately, ladies and gentleman, the population of violent and predatory sexual offenders, of men who lack respect for women, of depraved and uncivilized harassers is not limited to those men who are behind the prison bars.
The terrible fact is that the ranks of the department's male employees, its correctional officers, its supervisors, its entire management structure, are brimming with men who regularly and routinely sexually harass, intimidate and retaliate against the department's female employees.
And the terrible fact is, that this harassment, intimidation and retaliation is the department's standard operating procedure -- condoned, tolerated and even rewarded by the commissioner and other male supervisory employees at the highest levels.
The harassment includes:
- male officers exposing their genitals to female employees while on duty;
- male officers touching women employees in unwanted and sexually suggestive ways;
- physical threats and assaults on the women by male staff;
- a never ending stream of lewd and disgusting sexual language
- a policy and practice throughout the department of denying women bathroom facilities and bathroom breaks;
- a policy and practice throughout the department of failing to investigate or punish sexual harassers, and even of promoting male employees who harass women;
- and severe retaliation and intimidation directed at female employees who dare to complain about sexual harassment, including vandalism of their personal belongings, used condoms being left on their cars while on duty, tampering with their security equipment, and a refusal by male guards to come to the women's aid in emergency situations on the housing blocks.
It is outrageous -- and nearly impossible to believe -- that, just a few days ago, male officers at the Corrigan-Radgowski prison facility retaliated against a female officer by stepping on her radio transmissions and making it impossible for her to communicate with her fellow officers while on duty. An officer's radio is her lifeline. To my knowledge, no one has been disciplined for this dangerous and unforgivable security breach.
For many years, the department's women have tolerated the sexual harassment because they are tough, because they feared retaliation if they complained, because they value their jobs and because of the strict loyalty and code of silence that the department's paramilitary structure commands.
However, the women of this department can remain silent no longer. They cannot, and should not, be forced to suffer another day of this grotesque and sadistic sexual harassment and of this demoralizing, dehumanizing and dangerous conduct.
These woman have been alone and abandoned for too long.
They have been alone and abandoned on the cell blocks of this state's prisons when no male officer would come to their aid as retribution and punishment for speaking out about sexual harassment at the department.
They have been alone and abandoned in the department's grievance process when they have pleaded for help -- time and time again -- from Commissioner Armstrong and from his minions; help in stopping repeated, blatant and pervasive acts of harassment and retaliation; help that has been denied at every turn.
And they have been alone and abandoned when they just couldn't take it anymore, they couldn't risk their health and their safety for another day, and they were forced to leave their workplace as their final and only defense against the constant onslaught of pornography, lewd language, offensive touching, threats, retaliation and sadistic harassment perpetrated, condoned, and frequently rewarded, by male officers and supervisors throughout the department.
But let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen. These good and brave women of the Connecticut Department of Correction, these women who daily lay their lives on the line in order to protect the citizens of this state, these ladies who are among the most courageous of our public servants, are alone and abandoned no more.
My name is Antonio Ponvert and with me here today is Richard Bieder. And we are here to put Commissioner Armstrong on notice that this sexual harassment must stop.
We are here to announce that, this morning in the United States Federal District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, we filed a 111 page class action complaint to enjoin the department's continuing violation of the law and its continuing violation of the women's right to equal protection and to a workplace free of invidious sexual harassment and discrimination.
The lawsuit asserts that Commissioner Armstrong and other high-level managers in the department have for years conspired to violate the women's constitutional right to equal protection and their right to human dignity, and for years have conspired to hide and protect sexual harassers in the department's ranks.
The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the defendants' harmful and illegal conduct, to seek justice for the women for the serious injuries that they have suffered, and to punish the defendants for their ongoing, blatant and unapologetic violation of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights and their dignity as human beings.
We will not rest until every one of the serial sexual harassers in the department has been flushed from the dark corners where Armstrong and his friends have allowed them to hide.
We will not rest until the festering culture of sexual harassment and intimidation at the Department of Correction has been exposed to the sunlight, disinfected and exterminated.
And we will not rest until the department is dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and until Armstrong and his cohorts are forced to give these good women the dignity, protection, compassion and respect that they deserve and that the law compels.
Now, I'm going to turn the podium over to Richard Bieder, who will make a couple of brief comments, and then we'll be pleased to take questions from the press.
But before I do that, I want to recognize and honor the courageous women of this department who, at grave risk to themselves and to their careers, have stepped out of the shadow of fear and intimidation that has kept them and their fellow employees hidden and silent for so long, and who have decided that enough is enough.
The women who have done our office the great privilege of asking us to represent them, and all of the department's 1,700 female employees, in this case come from different correctional facilities and different towns throughout the state. They are of different ages and backgrounds. They have suffered at the hands of different harassers, and have shed tears of anger and humiliation as a result of different retaliatory and harassing acts.
But they have one thing in common. They are sick and tired of being mistreated and ignored, they are mad as hell, and they are not going to take it anymore. The named plaintiffs in this case are Maureen Allen, Paulette Williams, Denna Stanley, Danielle Locas, Tanjorie Godwin, Sandra Gawron, Regina Arango and Barbara Hawkins.
These women deserve to be acknowledged.
But they also deserve to be protected. And so, as my final prepared comment to you today, I am putting Commissioner Armstrong and every member of his management and every other employee of the department of correction on notice. If a single act of harassment or retribution is inflicted on these women from this day forward, there will be hell to pay.
Thank you. Allow me to introduce Richard Bieder.
"It is true, the law cannot make a white man love me, but it can discourage him from lynching me."
-- MKL Jr.
"If you get them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."