Missouri County settles underwire bra jail dispute for $405,000

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri county has agreed to pay $405,000 to settle two lawsuits filed in a dispute that began when certain underwired bras set off metal detectors at the county’s detention center.

The Jackson County Legislature approved the settlement this week for two longtime prison workers who alleged in sex discrimination lawsuits that they were reprimanded and given different assignments when they failed to several times to go through prison screening machines, The Kansas City Star reported.

The dispute began in May 2019 when the county installed metal detectors at the detention center to keep weapons, cellphones and other contraband out of the downtown Kansas City jail.

When the underwired bras triggered the detectors, the lawyers were told they had to either remove them or meet their clients by phone and separated by a window.

About 75 female lawyers and their supporters organized a public demonstration carrying signs such as “We need support! when Jackson County Sheriff Daryl Forte and Detention Center Director Diana Turner refused to come to a solution.

Ultimately, a secondary screening system was put in place for lawyers and other visitors likely to have contact with prisoners, but not for female prison workers.

Employees Charlotte Hardin and Linda Hengel have filed a lawsuit after unsuccessfully trying to comply with the vetting process, including removing their bras and putting them back on after emptying the machine.

But prison management said underwear was not allowed in the bins that passed through an X-ray machine, although men were allowed to remove belts and put them back on after going through the machines .

In their lawsuits, Hardin and Hengel said they were assigned to other duties outside of the secure area for repeatedly failing to pass through the machine.

Hengel, who was an inmate services coordinator, retired early because the new jobs were compounding her health issues.

At one point, Hardin was put on leave for removing her bra and having it x-rayed. She said she was treated unfairly and denied a raise for complaining about what she considered a policy discriminatory.

Under the settlement, Hardin will receive $255,000 and Hengel $150,000. Attorney Katherine Myers, who represented both women, will share those settlements.

For additional copyright information, see the distributor of this article, The Kansas City Star.

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