Race, Gender, & Law
Paper #1 – Dissent on Dothard v. Rawlinson
September 29, 2014
Appellee Dianne Rawlinson applied for a position as a prison guard with the Alabama Board of Corrections, where her application was subsequently rejected. According to Alabama statue she did not meet the minimum 120-pounds weight requirement. She filed a complaint to the District Court challenging the height and weight minima as a violation of Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. She later amended her complaint to include a challenge to Regulation 204, adopted by the Alabama Board of Corrections, which establishes gender criteria when assigning prison guards to “contact positions.”i The majority opinion of the Supreme Court decided, “Title VII…prohibits application of the statutory height and weight requirements to Rawlinson and the class she represents.”ii However, the majority opinion decided “Regulation 204 falls within the ambit of the [bona-fide-occupational-qualification] bfoq exception.”iii I agree with Parts I and II of the Court’s opinion however, I disagree with the Court’s opinion made in Part III because of the Court’s application of the bfoq exception in this case. It is clear to the Court that Regulation 204 “explicitly discriminates against women”iv based on their sex. The appellant’s affirmative defense of bfoq relies on the understanding that Regulation 204 falls within the “narrowest of exceptions to the general rule requiring equality of employment opportunities.”v In this case the District Court is corrected in that “Regulation 204 is based on… stereotypical assumptions.”vi In spite of this, the Court translates stereotypes into a safety concern in order to justify the discrimination. The Court states that there is a “real risk that other inmates [aside from sex offenders]… would assault women guards because they were women.”vii In Part II of the majority opinion the purpose of adopting a test for applicants that directly measures strength becomes a moot point in this case because of Part III. According to the Court’s reasoning in this case, even if a woman passes the strength test to be a prison guard it will not matter because no woman is safe in this prison. However, Alabama prisons are, in fact, not safe for anyone and the Court indeed acknowledges this fact. The majority opinion states that the “environment in Alabama’s penitentiaries is a peculiarly inhospitable one for human beings of whatever sex.”viii The Court recognizes that the conditions in these prisons are “constitutionally intolerable”ix therefore, no prison guard, regardless of their gender, will be safe. The Court’s understanding of this fact thus means that they cannot justify discrimination against one class of people if no one is safe. The Court employs another stereotypical assumption in their opinion particularly regarding a woman’s ability to maintain order. The Court’s logic in this case is centered on the assumption that in a male, maximum-security prison a female prison guard possesses an inherent rape-ability because of “her womanhood.”x The assumption made by the Court is stereotyping the scenario that men will only rape women, especially in a prison where a substantial portion of the inmates are sex offendersxi. The Court’s reasoning in this case holds no value because they do not have evidence to prove that men only rape women, the Court ignores the possibility of sexual assault in a homosexual nature. The majority opinion states that there are “few visible deterrents to inmate assaults on women custodian.”xii The fact that these prisons are understaffed and lack deterrents such as cameras, for example, does not prove that inmates will only assault women custodians. The possibility that inmates can sexually assault male prison guards is completely overlooked by the Court. The opinion of the Court recognize that no gender is safe in Alabama prisons therefore the Court cannot simply assume...
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