“Kate” is a transgender woman who spent almost three weeks in custody, first at the East Orange police headquarters and later in the Essex County jail. Throughout her detention, Kate repeatedly identified herself as “legally female” and requested that she be housed with female inmates. She feared that other inmates would harass, abuse, and physically harm her if she were placed in a male unit. At each step in her detention, however, police and corrections officers ignored Kate’s female gender identity and legal status and rejected her housing requests. They housed her with males after subjecting her to multiple cross-gender searches and medical examinations, conducted solely to confirm her biological sex. Predictably, she experienced a litany of humiliations, assaults, and violations of her constitutional rights while confined with male prisoners.
In February 2019, a federal court appointed the firm to represent Kate in a lawsuit against the police, the jail, the corrections officers who failed to protect her, and the warden and others responsible for the jail’s policies on the housing and treatment of transgender inmates. (Our 2019 Pro Bono Report provides a full description of Kate’s lawsuit and what happened while she was in the defendants’ custody.)
After exchanging written discovery and conducting multiple depositions, the firm negotiated a settlement with the defendants in 2021. As part of the settlement, Kate will receive compensatory damages from Essex County in the amount of $150,000 and an additional $25,000 from East Orange. The settlement also requires Essex County and East Orange to commit to significant policy changes by adopting and implementing the directives, policies, and procedures contained in Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2019-3 (the AG Directive). The AG Directive was designed to ensure that all individuals are guaranteed safety and dignity in their encounters with law enforcement, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
By adopting the AG Directive, the defendants, and Essex County jail in particular, have agreed to stop housing inmates based on their external genitalia or sex assigned at birth. Rather, Essex County jail will now be required to “[h]ouse, place, or otherwise detain individuals in line with their gender identity or expression, regardless of the gender that individual was assigned at birth and/or their anatomical characteristics unless [the detainee requests otherwise].” Likewise, when conducting a search, defendants are required to “treat a transgender woman as they would treat any other woman, and officers shall treat a transgender man as they would treat any other man, regardless of the gender that individual was assigned at birth and/or their anatomical characteristics.”
By adopting these reforms, the police and jail are satisfying their constitutional and statutory obligations with respect to the care and treatment of transgender individuals in custodial settings.
Defendants will now be required to “house, place, or otherwise detain individuals in line with their gender identity or expression.”