A former correctional officer with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is suing that agency. Bridget Cadena's lawsuit focuses on harassment she says she endured by coworkers and inmates alike after she was outed as a lesbian.
Cadena worked for the Parnall Correctional Facility near Jackson but said she quit three years ago following 18 months of harassment and subsequent inaction on the part of MDOC.
"Since my first day working at MDOC (in 2014), until the day I left, it felt horrible," Cadena told Pride Source. "I cried in my car before walking into work every day." Cadena said she could not safely do her job because supervisors allowed the prisoners to harass her. Worse, Cadena said, her supervisors put her in "many terrifying situations."
Cadena said the prisoners she was assigned to found out about her sexuality from other officers without her consent. In the suit, Cadena alleges a fellow corrections officer identified her as a lesbian in the course of a conversation with a kitchen worker. Nearby male prisoners overheard this conversation. The same officer, Cadena alleges, referred to her by a derogatory term used against gay women.
At that point, she said, "the respect that was established between us was destroyed." She alleges in the suit that the prisoners mocked her and made sexually threatening remarks. When she turned to her superiors to get help, Cadena said, "Nobody seemed to care about me at all."
Disappointed by the lack of assistance provided by her supervisors, Cadena said she was "shocked, alarmed, confused on why they wouldn't help me. I was looking for mentors, and in return, I received continuous harassment."
Not necessarily called a dream job by most, Cadena was excited about being a correctional officer, she said. She only left the job on the recommendation of her doctor after suffering anxiety and panic attacks.
"My whole life, I knew my purpose was to be in a field that was to help and serve people — my goal was to help with prison reform," she said. "I was very excited about my career."
Now, Cadena said she's had to change her plans.
"I want to help bring awareness to not only my harassment but women working in public service everywhere," Cadena said. "We don't sign ourselves up for this job lightheartedly. We are good people wanting to help the less fortunate."
Cadena is represented in her case by Royal Oak-based attorney Jim Rasor.
"This incessant egregious and blatant discrimination against Ms. Cadena was made far worse by the inaction of the Michigan Department of Corrections," Rasor said. "It is, obviously, bad enough to experience such discrimination and vile attitudes, but it becomes much worse when the discrimination becomes institutionalized and commonplace."
Rasor said that Cadena's concerns should have been addressed as soon as she brought them to her supervisors.
"Instead of doing a proper investigation, instead of relocating her to a safer environment, they allowed this to continue until Bridget had no choice but to resign," said Rasor. "What MDOC allowed to have happened was a travesty. They allowed this trash talk to continue on this corrections officer team to the extent Bridget felt she was not safe."
MDOC has denied Cadena's allegations. In a recent Detroit Free Press article, an MDOC representative said the department had conducted a "robust, two-month investigation" into the allegations but "could not find sufficient supporting evidence."