WASHINGTON – Today, Sgt. Deon Jones, a 24-year veteran of the D.C. Department of Corrections employed at the D.C. Jail, sued the District, four DOC supervisors, and one co-worker under D.C. law for sexual orientation and disability discrimination, retaliation, and a severely hostile work environment based on Jones’s identity as a gay man.
The ACLU of the District of Columbia and WilmerHale LLP filed the lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021 on behalf of Sgt. Jones, who has endured years of verbal harassment, demeaning anti-gay slurs, and intimidation by fellow officers and superiors for being a gay man. Additionally, co-workers and supervisors failed to respond when individuals incarcerated at the Jail repeatedly threatened Jones with physical violence and even death.
The lawsuit describes how Sgt. Jones faced constant harassment from co-workers and incarcerated persons alike, who targeted him with a stream of homophobic slurs and other obscenities. Sgt. Jones’s complaint contains graphic descriptions of the harassment, including Sgt. Jones being called “sissy” and “dick eater” among other slurs and told by fellow officers at DOC that they “hate working with faggots.”
Despite a group of incarcerated individuals who exposed themselves to Sgt. Jones and called in anti-gay slurs, his supervisors failed to assist him. Unfortunately, this failure to provide back-up was not an isolated incident. Sgt. Jones’s supervisors and co-workers repeatedly put Sgt. Jones’s safety at risk by refusing to respond to his calls requesting back-up when interacting with incarcerated individuals. During one particularly frightening incident, an incarcerated individual threatened to sexually assault Sgt. Jones and “cut his throat.”
Despite Sgt. Jones’s numerous, consistent complaints to supervisors and top DOC and D.C. officials, including DOC Director Quincy Booth and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, DOC did nothing to avert the harassment, reform its pervasive anti-gay culture, or protect Sgt. Jones. As a result of the abuse, he endured while working at the D.C. Jail, Sgt. Jones was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and major depressive disorder. Harassment by DOC staff and/or D.C. Jail residents caused Sgt. Jones to experience more than 15 panic attacks in early 2021 alone.
“I have been tormented and abused so badly, my life has changed. The discrimination and hostile work environment I faced has been devastating. I have suffered depression, PTSD and anxiety attacks. In spite of it all, I continue to do my job and lift my head up,” said Sgt. Deon Jones. “I have faced abuse from every direction: managers, co-workers, inmates. I have feared for my safety and cried out for help to the Director and Mayor but nothing was ever done. I’ve been threatened and bullied and received so much harsh treatment. All of this, because I’m gay.”
DOC supervisors were not just indifferent to the discriminatory abuse directed at Sgt. Jones, but also deliberately gave him dangerous assignments, often in retaliation for his complaints against them. In one instance, in Spring 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he requested telework or administrative duties as accommodation for underlying medical conditions that placed Sgt. Jones at high risk of severe illness or death if he contracted COVID-19. Despite this request, DOC required him to work in a unit with detainees who had tested positive for COVID-19.
“No one should live in constant fear of their workplace, and no one should be subjected to abuse and hostility based on who they are or whom they love,” said Scott Michelman, Legal Director, ACLU of the District of Columbia. “Sgt. Jones’s horrific experiences with recent reports of appalling conditions for incarcerated persons including with respect to COVID precautions, reveal DOC’s shameless culture of indifference to human suffering and abuse both of the people it employs and the people it incarcerates. Under Director Quincy Booth’s leadership, the environment at DOC is toxic from top to bottom.”
“Working in a correctional facility is stressful enough without the added burden of being targeted for one’s sexual identity,” said Steven F. Cherry, the WilmerHale partner leading the firm’s pro bono legal efforts for Sgt. Jones. “We seek redress for Sgt. Jones but we also hope to send a strong message to D.C. officials that they have a duty to protect all public servants from such abuse.”
This case, along with the abuse suffered by Sunday Hinton, a trans woman who was housed in the men’s unit at the D.C. Jail and whom the ACLU-DC represents in a separate pending case, show a practice by DOC officials of actively discriminating against LGTBQ people who work and reside in the D.C. jail.
The lawsuit claims violations of the D.C. Human Rights Act for sexual orientation discrimination, hostile work environment, unlawful retaliation, and disability discrimination, among other claims. The suit seeks damages for Sgt. Jones in an amount to be determined by a jury, as well as an injunction barring the DOC from continuing to engage in such conduct.
More information about the case, Jones v. District of Columbia, can be found here.