LOS ANGELES (Reuters) — A California prison guard who says he was relentlessly harassed and mocked by his co-workers because he is black and Muslim has sued the state of California and its corrections officials, an Islamic civil rights group said on Monday.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento last week, marks the latest blow to California's troubled corrections system, which is struggling to meet court-ordered demands to improve medical and mental healthcare in its overcrowded prisons.
In the court papers, lawyers for Elsiddig Elhindi, who was born in Sudan and has been working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since 2002, say he was for years subjected to taunts and mocking comments based on his race and religion while working at a state prison in Sacramento.
The harassment only got worse after Elhindi filed complaints both internally and with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the lawsuit.
"While we understand most work environments come with some level of joking and personal banter, employers must protect employees who become subjected to severe and pervasive harassment by their co-workers," said Brice Hamack of the Northern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Elhindi.
"When the State of California and the CDCR failed to protect Mr. Elhindi from harassment based on his religion, race and national origin, as well as from retaliation for seeking protection against such harassment, they violated his civil rights," Hamack said.
Dana Simas, a CDCR spokeswoman, confirmed that Elhindi was a correctional sergeant for the department now working at a state prison in Vacaville but declined to comment on the litigation.
"However I can tell you that CDCR is an extremely diverse organization and we'd expect every employee to be treated with respect and fairness," Simas said.
In the lawsuit, Elhindi said his co-workers constantly suggested that he was a terrorist because of his religion, mocked Islam and its teachings and used racial slurs in his presence.
California has been under court orders to reduce overcrowding in its massive prison system since 2009 as officials wrestle with concerns about treatment of mentally ill inmates as well as the use of long-term solitary confinement for prisoners with suspected gang ties, which has led to hunger strikes.
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