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Mo. county settles underwire bra jail dispute for $405K

Two longtime jail employees alleged in sexual discrimination lawsuits they were reprimanded when they repeatedly failed to pass screening machines

Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Missouri county has agreed to pay $405,000 to settle two lawsuits filed in a dispute that began when some underwire bras set off metal detectors at the county detention center.

The Jackson County Legislature approved the settlement this week for two longtime jail employees who alleged in sexual discrimination lawsuits that they were reprimanded and given different duties when they repeatedly failed to pass the screening machines at the jail, The Kansas City Star reported.

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

When underwire bras set off the detectors, attorneys were told they either had to remove them or meet with their clients via phone and separated by a window.

About 75 female attorneys and their supporters staged a public protest carrying signs such as “We need support!” when Jackson County Sheriff Daryl Forte and detention center director Diana Turner refused to find a solution.

Eventually, a secondary screening system was set up for attorneys and other visitors who might have contact with inmates — but not for female jail employees.

Employees Charlotte Hardin and Linda Hengel sued after unsuccessful attempts to comply with the screening process, including taking off their bras and putting them back on after they cleared the machine.

But jail management said undergarments were not allowed in the bins that went through an X-ray machine, although men were allowed to take off 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 the secure area for repeatedly failing to get through the machine.

Hengel, who was inmate services coordinator, retired early because the new jobs aggravated her medical conditions.

At one point, Hardin was put on leave for removing her bra and putting it through the X-ray machine. She said she was treated unfairly and denied a pay raise for complaining about what she saw as a discriminatory policy.

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