Working for the New York City Corrections Department must be difficult. Working on Riker’s Island, guarding inmates, conducting searches and training fellow officers are stressful jobs even when you are passionate and enjoy the work. Imagine how much harder things can become when a co-worker is sexually harassing you, and you are forced to move out of a position you love. One corrections officer alleges this is what has happened to her.
The New York Daily News reported on May 7, 2017, that it received documents confirming that Donna Schnirring, a nine-year veteran with the New York City Corrections Department, alleged in a complaint that a fellow officer was sexually harassing her. Schnirring spent many years as a CO on Riker’s Island overseeing some of the most troubled inmates. She eventually applied and became a trained and certified K-9 handler. In 2015, Schnirring and another handler were asked to join the NYPD’s K-9 patrol apprentice program. She trained for five months before returning to the Corrections Department to work as a certified dog handler instructor.
According to the report, Schnirring filed a complaint in January against Joseph Hehl. Schnirring claimed that in September 2015 Hehl began repeatedly asking her out and she “rebuffed his advances.” In June 2015 Hehl signed up to take one of Schnirring’s popular K-9 training classes where he again began asking her out. She again replied no, adding that she “had no interest in dating a married man.” Upon returning to class the following day, Schnirring’s complaint claims that Hehl became concerned that people were talking badly about him. He allegedly said that he “wasn’t afraid to fight” and that “a female can get it too.”
When Schnirring complained about the behavior, the jail supervisor moved Hehl into a different class.
The harassment, however, did not end there. Schnirring wanted to take her class to a three-day specialized training program in New Jersey, and Hehl wanted to attend. According to the paper, “He complained to jail bosses about being excluded, and the trip was ultimately canceled three times before Schnirring’s class was finally allowed to attend without Hehl, records show.”
Two colleagues in defense of Schnirring filed memos stating that Hehl began bragging that he and Schnirring had a sexual relationship and asking other men if they too were dating her. Schnirring allegedly felt he was retaliating against her for refusing to date him. Hehl responded by filing his own complaint against her, claiming that she was the aggressor. He told the Daily News that none of her allegations are true.
The officers were both transferred out of the K-9 unit and assigned to different jails on Rikers Island while investigators looked into the matter. Colleagues successfully lobbied to have them returned to the K-9 unit. However, shortly after that, per a jail source, Schnirring learned that the department was planning to reopen her position so others could apply for her job. According to the Daily News, this information caused Schnirring to suffer a panic attack.
There is no current news on how Schnirring is doing and whether she will pursue additional remedies that may be available to her. But her situation does highlight some of the troubles that men and women face in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and New York State and City Human Rights Law are just some of the legislative acts that prohibit sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. They also prohibit retaliation against employees who complain or try and stop discrimination.
Every situation must be looked at on a case by case basis. Some questions the courts, administrative agencies, and employers may ask include:
If you are a corrections officer or other employee working in New York City or the surrounding areas, you may be experiencing sexual harassment. If so, consider contacting Leeds Brown Law, P.C., employment rights attorneys in New York. Our dedicated and skilled lawyers understand the complex nature of sexual harassment claims and can help you navigate your workplace situation. If you are interested in filing a claim, negotiating a settlement or taking your case to trial, Leeds Brown can guide you every step of the way.
You can reach someone at Leeds Brown 24/7 at 1-800-585-4658.