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Berndt v. California Department of Corrections

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 16, 2014

MARTHA BERNDT, et al., Plaintiffs,


PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Martha Berndt and Marta Hastings' motion for summary judgment came on for hearing before this court on August 6, 2014. Plaintiffs Berndt and Hastings ("plaintiffs") appeared through their counsel, Pamela Price. Defendant California Department of Corrections ("CDCR" or "defendant") appeared through its counsel, Lyn Harlan and Chris Young. Having read the papers filed in conjunction with the motion and carefully considered the arguments and the relevant legal authority, and good cause appearing, the court hereby DENIES plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment as follows.


This case arises out of allegations that female correctional officers and employees of CDCR have been continuously sexually harassed by inmates at CDCR institutions. Plaintiffs claim that they have been exposed to repeated inmate exhibitionist masturbation (referred to as "IEX") while working at CDCR institutions.

Specifically, the operative fifth amended complaint ("5AC") makes the following allegations:

Berndt: Plaintiff Berndt alleges that she began her employment as a correctional officer at Centinela State Prison in July 1994, and then worked at Pelican Bay State Prison from May 1995 to July 2002. Berndt alleges that, on July 12, 2002, she was ordered by a supervisor (Sergeant David Skerik) to place inmate Goldwire Jackson in a cell, in full view of the control booth. 5AC, ¶ 24. Inmate Jackson is described in the 5AC as a "notoriously abusive exhibitionist masturbator." Id . Berndt claims that she made "strenuous objections" to this order, and gave an "explicit warning that the inmate would create an extremely hostile and dangerous environment if placed in front of the control booth." Id . Regardless, Skerik insisted that the inmate be placed there. Berndt also alleges that, from August 2001 through July 12, 2002, "inmate Jackson repeatedly sexually harassed" her "with taunts and threats." Id.

The complaint itself does not contain any additional factual allegations regarding Berndt, nor did Berndt file a supporting declaration in connection with this motion for summary judgment. However, Berndt did submit a declaration in support of a different motion for summary judgment - filed by the estate of Judy Longo (another plaintiff in this action). In that declaration, Berndt provides further detail regarding her alleged harassment by inmate Jackson. See Dkt. 620. Specifically, Berndt alleges that, "on December 2, 2001, inmate Goldwire Jackson [] first began his sexual misconduct towards" her. Dkt. 620, ¶ 3. Berndt alleges that, on that date, Jackson "continually exposed his erect penis while using his hair clippers, " and then "turned his body sideways" so "no other officers could see him and masturbated, intentionally facing [her] direction so that [she] could see him masturbate." Id . Berndt alleges that she told Jackson "three times very clearly that his exhibitionist masturbation was not appreciated." Later, after two other officers left the cell, Jackson "openly masturbated" in front of Berndt and then "hid his penis when the two male officers returned." Id., ¶ 4. When one of the male officers returned, Jackson pulled up his pants, and the officer asked Berndt if she needed assistance." Berndt said yes, "because when he left, Jackson would again expose himself." Id . Berndt then filed a report (specifically, a "115 report") and informed a supervisor (Sergeant Van Nocker).

Berndt then alleges that, on June 2, 2002, she witnessed inmate Jackson "masturbating to the yard camera as he noticed that [Berndt] was the one monitoring the yard camera." Dkt. 620, ¶ 5. Berndt notified a supervisor (Sergeant Willis).

Berndt then alleges that, on July 12, 2002, she was assigned to a control booth, and Jackson was placed in a holding cell eight feet from the booth. Dkt. 620, ¶ 6. Jackson "immediately dropped his boxers when he saw that the floor staff was no longer in view, and began masturbating." Id . Berndt notified a supervisor (Lieutenant Christ) about the incident, and Jackson "started shouting" at Berndt, saying things like "Shut up, bitch! You know you like it!" and "You ain't nothing but a whore!" Id., ¶ 7. At the end of that day, Berndt was told by a supervisor (Captain Scribner) that Jackson was going to be moved that night, but when Berndt returned to work the next morning, Jackson had not been moved. Id., ¶¶ 8-9. That same morning, Jackson complained of chest pains, and Berndt was assigned to move him so that he could be examined. Berndt alleges that, as he was being moved, Jackson gave her "an I got you' look, " and that the "tone of his voice, his face, gesture, and laugh taunted" her. Id., ¶ 9. After the medical exam, Berndt refused to open the gate for Jackson, even after being given a direct order by a supervisor (Sergeant Willis). Berndt was then relieved of duty, and was told by Lieutenant Christ that she could not be put back in her same job position because she was "in no state of mind to continue." Id., ¶¶ 10-11. Berndt never did return to work, and formally retired in October 2003. Berndt further alleges that she was subjected to exhibitionist masturbation by 16 other inmates, in addition to Goldwire Jackson. Id., ¶ 12.

Berndt alleges that, prior to July 13, 2002, she "orally asked Sergeant Willis four or five times to remove inmate Jackson from [her] shifts, and every time, Sergeant Willis refused to move inmate Jackson from the unit and would send [Berndt] home instead." Dkt. 620, ¶ 13. Berndt alleges that she filed at least four 115 reports on inmate Jackson, but no action was ever taken. Berndt further alleges that, on July 12, 2002, she spoke to Sergeant Skerik, but he "avoided responding" to her and "insisted on placing inmate Jackson in the holding cell eight feet away from" Berndt, reasoning that "if [they] gave inmate Jackson an opportunity to mess up, ' it would give CDC reason to place him on more restrictions." Id., ¶ 13.

Hastings: Plaintiff Hastings alleges that she began her employment with CDCR in 1986, and worked at Pelican Bay State Prison from November 1989 to January 2005. Hastings alleges that she attempted to report exhibitionist masturbation by an "inmate Thomas" in August 2003, but that her "complaints were ignored and two more exhibitionist masturbators were placed in her unit." 5AC, ¶ 26. Hastings further alleges that Pelican Bay management "failed to follow up" on her reports, and "failed to take any action to protect her from known exhibitionist masturbators." Id.

Both Berndt and Hastings assert two causes of action: (1) a sex discrimination claim under Title VII against defendant CDCR, and (2) a section 1983 claim (equal protection) against various individual CDCR employees[1]. The moving plaintiffs now seek summary judgment as to certain issues surrounding the first cause of action. Specifically, plaintiffs move the court for partial summary judgment on the following three issues:

(1) Defendant CDCR is collaterally estopped from denying that there was a sexually hostile work environment at Pelican Bay State Prison during the time period 1998 to 2003 because of inmate masturbatory and indecent exposure acts directed at female correctional officers.
(2) Defendant CDCR is collaterally estopped from denying that it failed to respond adequately or reasonably to the sexual abuse directed at female correctional officers by failing to take prompt and effective measures to control the actions of inmates, thereby ...

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