Civil Case Law - Eleventh Circuit

11th Circuit (Alabama, Florida, Georgia)

Cases Upholding Agency Anti-Fraternization Policies

Burke-Fowler v. Orange County , 447 F.3d 1319 (11th Cir. 2006): A female correctional officer met a male inmate serving a life sentence while he was assigned to her facility pending an appeal of his conviction. The two had direct contact on at least twenty occasions, but the officer asserted the interactions were always strictly professional. After the inmate was transferred to another facility, a mutual acquaintance delivered a letter from the inmate to the officer. The two continued corresponding, and the officer visited the inmate, and eventually married him. She continued this contact until he was paroled. Shortly after his parole, the county terminated the officer for violating the agency’s anti-fraternization policy. The officer brought an action alleging racial discrimination and violation of Florida’s civil rights act based on her marital status. The court upheld the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment for the defendants. First, the officer claimed that white correctional officers who violated the agency’s policy were not terminated for their conduct. The court found that the white officers who violated the policy either began their relationships before their partners were inmates, or that their conduct did not progress to the same level. The court, therefore, dismissed the officer’s claim of racial discrimination. Second, the officer claimed a violation of the Florida state civil rights act, which prohibited employers from discharging employees based on marital status. The court found that County did not terminate the officer for her marital status, but for fraternizing with an inmate.

Williams v. Miami-Dade County , 969 So.2d 389 (Fla. App. 3 Dist., July 25, 2007): Miami-Dade had a policy that prohibited employees from “maintain[ing] or develop[ing] close, personal, intimate or sexual relationships, with inmates that the employees become acquainted with while the inmates are in the Department's custody.” A second policy covered association with former inmates, and stated that “[a]ssociation with ex-inmates (regardless of whether or not they were found guilty, sentenced, served time, etc.) does not automatically constitute a conflict which would require an end to the contact. However, the professional relationship standards applicable to current inmates applies to known or alleged ex-inmates, especially if they are, or appear to be, involved in criminal activity on a full time, part time, or an occasional basis.” Miami-Dade County terminated a female correctional officer living with her boyfriend, a former felon, for violating these rules. The court found the officer’s boyfriend was not an “inmate” within the meaning of the statute prohibiting developing personal relationships with inmates, and that her conduct had not violated the policy cautioning against association with former inmates. The court found that “no reasonable person could review the provisions at issue and know that cohabitating with a former felon—especially absent evidence that the employee knew that the former felon was involved in criminal activity—would be a cause for automatic termination.”