Civil Case Law - Sixth Circuit

6th Circuit (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee)

Cases Upholding Agency Anti-Fraternization Policies

Akers v. McGinnis , 352 F.3d 1030 (6th Cir. 2003): The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) had a rule on “Improper Relationships with Prisoners, Parolees or Probationers, Visitors or Families.” Two female correctional officers brought suit against MDOC, alleging that this rule violated their rights to freedom of association.

The first plaintiff, a Wayne County probation officer, was contacted by a man she had dated before becoming an MDOC employee. At the time he contacted her, he was serving a life sentence without parole in a prison outside her jurisdiction. She exchanged several letters with him. When the supervisor realized that she was in violation of the department’s rule on anti-fraternization, she approached her supervisor about the matter. Four months later, Wayne County terminated her for the rule violation.

The second plaintiff was a bookkeeper at a correctional facility in Chippewa County. She befriended a male inmate who worked as a clerk in the facility. Shortly after the inmate's release, the bookkeeper gave him a ride in her car to a job interview. MDOC terminated her for this rule violation.

The Sixth Circuit held that the MDOC’s regulation easily met the rational basis test. The court found that MDOC had a legitimate interest in preventing fraternization between its employees and offenders and their families, and that the rule was a rational means for advancing that interest. Consequently, the rule withstood the constitutional challenge.

West v. Facility Governing Bd. of Stark Cty. Community Corrections , No. 2010CA00212, 2011 WL 2436605 (Ohio App. 5 Dist. Jun. 13, 2011): A male resident supervisor at Stark Regional Community Corrections Center (SRCCC) became romantically and sexually involved with a former female resident. The relationship began one to two weeks after the former resident left the facility. Subsequently, she became pregnant. SRCCC terminated the supervisor, due to its policy that expressly forbade employees from fraternizing with a former client for a period of one year after the client leaves the facility. The supervisor challenged his dismissal on the grounds that SRCCC's policy violated his constitutional right to privacy. The court found that the supervisor did not have a fundamental right to engage in a private, consensual sexual relationship with a former client of the correctional facility. Applying the rational basis test, the court determined that SRCCC’s policy was reasonably related to its interest in “insuring the impartiality of correctional employees.” The court based its decision on testimony from SRCCC’s director, who stated that the aim of the policy was to protect SRCCC’s integrity and reputation, as those released from SRCCC have continued contact with the facility, with more than 50% on intensive supervision for one year after release.

Clark v. Alston , 442 F. Supp. 2d 395 (E.D. Mich. 2006) A female applicant interviewed for a position as a probation officer. The interviewing judge withdrew her employment offer after learning she was married to a former inmate. The applicant stated that she left her employment with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) after an inmate alleged she instigated an improper relationship. She claimed that although she exchanged letters with and accepted gifts from the inmate, she did not begin a relationship with him until after she resigned. The MDOC, however, reported that she engaged in the relationship while the inmate was in custody, and later married him. The applicant alleged the judge violated her First Amendment right to freedom of intimate association. The court granted the judge’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the judge’s decision not to hire the applicant was not an “’undue’ intrusion into plaintiff's marital relationship.” The court found that the judge was justified in denying employment to a former correctional officer who engaged in a personal relationship with an inmate. The court also found that “even assuming arguendo that Plaintiff could establish that Defendant's conduct was an ‘undue intrusion’ into her marriage relationship, Plaintiff has failed to establish that her marital relationship was a substantial motivating factor in Judge Alston's decision not to hire her.”