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Lawsuit: Virginia Jail Fired Dental Hygienist After Mistaking Tampon for “Contraband”

A dental hygienist has filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections, claiming she lost her position with the agency after a body scanner detected that she was wearing a tampon.

The scan’s finding, says NBC12, was interpreted by facility staff as something else entirely.

The employee, Joyce Flores, says she pulled aside and detained for hours as staff at Augusta Correctional Center accused her of attempting to smuggle contraband into the prison. Flores repeatedly protested—and went so far as to “demonstrate” to female guards that she was menstruating and wearing a tampon.

In her lawsuit, and her conversations with prison administrators, Flores explained that she had worn a tampon into the jail. Some time later in the day, she went to the washroom to remove it—but realized she had forgotten to bring a replacement. Flores then used a wad of toilet paper as a replacement.

Image via Pexels/Pixabay. (CCA-BY-0.0)

Unfortunately, August’s “vigilant” guards noticed the difference on Flores’s body scans and were quick to confront.

But Flores’s arguments fell on deaf ears; an “infuriated’ administrator fired her, and she left Augusta without a job.

According to Flores’s lawsuit, this in spite of the fact that corrections staff were unable to find anything controversial on her person, in her clothing, or in car.

“At no point did [Flores] bring or attempt to bring contraband into Augusta Correctional Center,” the lawsuit states. Rather, Flores’s “employment was terminated because she was a menstruating female utilizing a feminine hygiene product when she arrived to work.”

Since Flores’s lawsuit was filed as a gender discrimination complaint, the Virginia Department of Corrections had tried to see the suit dismissed on grounds that it insufficiently demonstrated that sex was a motivating factor in Flores’s firing.

But on Monday, a federal judge scrapped the department’s plea.

“But for Flores’s menstruation and use of a tampon — conditions inextricable from her sex and her childbearing capacity — she would not have been discharged,” U.S. District Judge Thomas T. Cullen wrote in his opinion, which effectively allows Flores’s lawsuit to continue unimpeded.

The Washington Post notes that the Virginia of Department of Corrections had earlier implemented and enforced inherently discriminatory policies. In 2018, for instance, the agency had attempted to ban anyone who entered its facilities from wearing tampons, claiming that its body scanners could not differentiate between menstrual products and smuggled contraband.

Although the tampon restriction was quickly lifted, agency officials admitted less than a year later that they were still informally enforcing the prohibition.

Flores’s lawsuit suggests that her termination, along with comments made by the Virginia Department of Corrections, provide suitable pretext for a sexual discrimination lawsuit.

Flores is tentatively seeking $300,000 in damages, back-pay, and the reinstatement of her job or matching compensation for wages she would have earned if she were still normally employed.

Sources

Virginia prison guards accused a staffer of smuggling contraband, so she was fired. It was a tampon, she says.

Virginia Prison Staffer Fired After Alleged Tampon Interrogation to Sue State for Sexual Discrimination

Virginia prison staffer says she was fired on suspicion of smuggling after body scan detected tampon

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