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Correctional Officer sues Lucas County Sheriff's Office, alleging failure to act on sexual discrimination, harassment by inmates

Sonya Colombaro sued the Lucas County Sheriff's Office and Board of Commissioners for failing to act following her complaints of sexual harassment by male inmates.

TOLEDO, Ohio — A correctional officer at the Lucas County Correctional Center has sued the Lucas County Sheriff's Office and Lucas County Board of Commissioners, alleging that they failed to take prompt action to stop sexual discrimination and harassment by male inmates against her.

According to court documents, Sonya Colombaro and other employees reported the sexual discrimination and sexual harassment by male inmates to management. The male inmates were "rarely disciplined" and the women who complained were "often ignored."

Colombaro's suit alleges the Lucas County Sheriff's Office and the Lucas County Board of County Commissioners, both named as defendants, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act o 1964 by failing to act on this sexual harassment and discrimination, which was described as "open and obvious," despite having the capability to control it.

The harassment began when she started working as a correctional officer in October 2012 and has continued to the present.

One example describes Colombaro's shift, which required hourly window and cell inspections and rounds of the facility ever half hour. During this time, male inmates would expose themselves and masturbate openly at Colombaro. This was described as a regular occurrence, with inmates anticipating her hourly inspections.

Colombaro would also face crude and sexually violent comments, including one inmate telling her “I am going to rape you to death. I’m going to have my people jump you on the outside.”

In one instance, Colombaro reported an inmate exposing himself and making vulgar comments to the inmate's counselor. The counselor then reported to the shift supervisor. The complaint reads that inmates learned of the discussion and for the rest of the day, simultaneously exposed themselves and touched their genitals in Colombaro's presence.

Numerous other instances detail Colombaro reporting sexual harassment to management, which was witnessed once personally by a sergeant on shift and alleges no disciplinary action was taken against the male inmates. 

Male correctional officers, according to the complaint, are rarely, if ever, the subjects of similar harassment.

The complaint also details that the Lucas County Sheriff's Office has designated certain areas of the prison as gender specific, for only male or female employees to work in that area. This is cited as a cause for the sexual harassment, with female employees required to work in areas where they are more likely to encounter it.

Female employees, according to the suit, are required by the sheriff's office to work overtime in these gender specific positions at a lower pay.

In the court documents, Colombaro discloses that she was told during training that there was "nothing management could do" about the sexual harassment by inmates, and "it was just part of the job."