Jury awards $11.4 million to Black couple in racial discrimination case

A jury in Michigan awarded a Black couple $11.4 million after they filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and retaliation inside of a Corrections Department facility where they both worked.

The Genessee County jury found that Lisa Griffey, a Black probation officer who worked for the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Michigan was subjected to discrimination and harassment at her job, the Detroit Free Press reported. Griffey’s husband, Cedric, who was a deputy prison warden, was reportedly retaliated against and forced to resign from his position when his wife complained about the harassment.

Jonathan Marko, the Griffeys’s attorney, told the publication Lisa’s co-workers “called her mammy,” and “asked if she wanted chitlins on her pizza,” along with other racial insults. Marko said Lisa faced discrimination in her department ever since she moved to the position in an all-white office in 2014.

Lisa had transferred from her old job at a probation office in Detroit because Cedric had received a promotion to deputy warden at the Lapeer facility, the Detroit Free Press reported. Marko states that the department tried to smear Cedric’s spotless 29-year record after his wife complained about the racial insults. Cedric was eventually forced to resign when the Corrections Department accused him of not properly administering discipline.

A similar incident occurred in May after a Muslim who was working as a prison guard for the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) claimed she was discriminated against at work because she was not allowed to wear her hijab. Jalanda Calhoun, a 25-year-old corrections officer at the Rogers State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia filed a complaint with the Georgia Commission of Equal Opportunity claiming the GDC violated her religious beliefs by prohibiting her from wearing a hijab during work, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

Calhoun, who had worked at the department for three years, reportedly told her supervisors that she had recently converted to Islam. As part of the conversion, she would need a ten-minute prayer break during work and she intended to wear a hijab. When she began to wear the religious head-covering, she said she received inappropriate comments and stares, AJC previously reported.

“Both my job and my religion are very important to me,” Calhoun previously told the publication. “I never thought I would have to choose between them.”

The corrections officer told AJC she received a letter from prison Warden Linton Deloach stating that she would have to wear a department-issued cap instead of her hijab, stating that the “head coverings that you have asked to wear do not conform” to department standards. Calhoun told the publication that she just wants to be treated like everyone else.

“I just feel uncomfortable because I’m so used to being covered,” she told the publication. “When I’m not covered, it makes me feel naked or something. I just feel uncomfortable.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of Georgia, Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said during a previous press conference that prison officials told Calhoun that they were understaffed, which is why they could not set aside time for her to pray.

“Right now, American Muslim women can wear hijabs while serving as soldiers, police officers, medics, and other public service roles. Yet the state of Georgia is denying a Muslim woman her constitutional right to wear a hijab while serving the state prison system,” Mitchell said in a statement. “The state’s ban on hijabs makes no sense, violates the law, and must not stand.” In August, a Black school employee also filed a discrimination lawsuit. The Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools employee claimed that her white colleagues humiliated and discriminated against her because of her natural hair. Kimberly Tigner, who worked as a career development liaison for the Career and Technical Education Department at the school district, said she experienced “racially-motivated criticism and bullying” by one of her supervisors, The Charlotte Observer previously reported.

The supervisor reportedly circulated a petition with signatures to other white colleagues stating that Tigner’s hair was “unprofessional” and “inappropriate for the workplace.” The petition also noted that the supervisor has “Black friends, so it was okay for her to say what she did,” according to the publication. The lawsuit was filed with the Western District of North Carolina last year, but the school district asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because Tigner could not specify “official policy, practice or custom of institutional discrimination.” Tigner filed against the dismissal bid on July 31.

“The harassment Ms. Tigner faced was brutal and relentless, including incidents ranging from mildly insulting to dehumanizing,” the complaint obtained by The Charlotte Observer read.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.