How to Sue a Private Prison

Prison isn’t a fun place to be, but that doesn’t mean prisoners should be subjected to abuse and neglect in the name of punishment. Yet, prison abuse allegations are on the rise in the United States in both state-owned and privately held prisons. Reports of abuse and inhumane treatment continue to surface about prisons in New Mexico, with some inmates filing a civil lawsuit.

There are nine prisons in New Mexico. Six are owned by the state and another three are owned by private entities. When prisoners feel their civil rights are violated, they have recourse. Contacting a law firm skilled in prison abuse violations is a crucial part of the process.

What rights do prisoners have behind bars?

Just because you are imprisoned as punishment for a crime doesn’t mean you lose all your rights while behind bars. You still have the right to a minimum standard of living and to be treated fairly without discrimination based on your race, sex, national origin, or religion. You also retain free speech and religion rights if they do not interfere with the status of other inmates.

The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also protects prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment. Access to the parole process and due process for administrative appeals are included in these safeguards.

Map of all private prisons located in teh United States. Source: The Sentencing Project.

How is a private prison different from a state-owned prison?

Unfortunately, New Mexico’s use of private prisons exceeds that of other states. More than half of all prisoners incarcerated in the state are serving their sentences in private prisons, according to data from The Sentencing Project, which monitors private prisons in the U.S. In comparison, only 8 percent of prisoners nationally are housed in private prisons.

Public prisons are owned and operated by the state or federal government. Taxpayers foot the bill to operate them. Because they are taxpayer-funded, public prisons have strict reporting requirements and oversight by the government.

Private prisons receive funding from government contracts and other third-party investors. They are not required to release information about inmate populations or how the money they receive is being used to run the prison. Private prisons can pick and choose which prisoners they accept, with a tendency toward less violent inmates.

Despite favoring less violent inmates, a 2017 Justice Department report concluded that private prisons were more dangerous and less effective at reforming prisoners.

Why would you sue a private prison?

Injuries and abuse are the top reasons inmates sue private prisons. Other reasons may include becoming ill or injured due to negligence on the part of prison administration or staff. How you handle these kinds of incidents in a private prison is severely limited by the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

One of the starkest differences between public and private prisons is how inmates seek legal recourse for abuse and other mistreatment. Prisoners in public prisons can sue under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act if they are injured or abused.

Detainees in private prisons do not have the same ability since the prisons aren’t government-run. They must instead file standard tort lawsuits based on negligence or intentional torts like those used for battery.

What is private prison negligence?

Private prisons exist for one reason only: to make a profit. Putting profit above prisoner safety and security can be a common theme among private prisons. It’s not rare to see them accused of engaging in careless, dangerous, and negligent acts to save money. Failing to maintain adequate staffing levels is one way that private prisons put profit over prisoner well-being.

An attorney skilled in personal injury and civil rights laws can help prisoners and their families navigate abuses and other forms of neglect within the private prison system. The team at Cameron and Russell have the knowledge and experience to help you resolve private prison issues. Give us a call at 505-218-7844 or contact us online to schedule your case evaluation.

Women’s History Month: Sexism in the Workplace

March is Women’s History Month and the perfect time to talk about sexism in the workplace. Sex-based discrimination on the job is a real concern for New Mexican women. It’s also considered a civil rights violation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Just how many women experience inequity in the workplace? According to data from Pew Research, about four in ten working women have faced gender-based discrimination. Discrimination comes in many forms, including earning less than male counterparts to being passed over for a promotion.

If you believe you’re the victim of sexism in the workplace, you have legal options. Working with an experienced civil rights attorney can get you the resolution you seek.

What is sex-based discrimination?

Sex-based discrimination in the workforce takes on many forms, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It includes firing, fringe benefits, hiring, job assignments, layoffs, promotions, and salary.

Sexism in the workplace also includes sexual harassment. Women subjected to unwelcome sexual advances – verbal or physical – have a legitimate complaint. Offensive remarks about your sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy status also fall into this category.

Gender discrimination can lead to a hostile work environment for women.

What constitutes a hostile work environment in New Mexico?

Sometimes sex-based discrimination is so severe it creates a hostile work environment. New Mexico Statute 28-1-7 (2018) defines when sexism in the workplace crosses that line. Herald v. Bd. Of Regents of the Univ. of New Mexico is an example of sex-based discrimination turning a workplace hostile. The presiding judge in the case rules in the defendant’s favor based on three claims:

  • Disparate treatment.
  • Sex discrimination.
  • Retaliation.

There are several signs that a workplace has become antagonistic. Any time you feel uncomfortable, scared, or intimidated by unwelcome conduct from coworkers or supervisors, your workplace meets the legal definition of hostile.

How to prove sex discrimination

When it comes to proving sex discrimination in the workplace, it always comes down to the decision maker’s intent. Can you support your claim that you were overlooked for a promotion or fired from your job based solely on the thinking of the person in charge of the situation? How do you prove what’s inside another person’s head, guiding their choices?

There may be signs and supporting evidence of a person’s intent. Let’s say your boss repeatedly passes you over for a promotion, even though you have more experience and qualifications than the male colleague he instead advances. A pattern of behavior counts as intent. Here’s how you take circumstantial evidence and build your case:

  • Provide evidence you are in a protected class.
  • Provide evidence you were qualified for the promotion.
  • Provide evidence you didn’t get the promotion.
  • Provide evidence the employer promoted someone not in your protected class or left the position unfilled.

There are other kinds of anecdotal evidence you can use to support your case. Maybe your supervisor makes negative, offhand remarks about mothers who work outside the home. Document this kind of behavior. It may be useful if you pursue a gender discrimination case.

Filing a sex discrimination claim in New Mexico

If you’ve decided to pursue a gender bias claim against your employer, speaking to an experienced civil rights attorney is the first crucial step. Your attorney can help you decide whether you should file your complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau or the EEOC. The two agencies have a work-sharing agreement, allowing them to cooperate with each other to process claims.

Acting fast in sex discrimination cases is required under New Mexico Statutes. You have 180 days from the time you believe you were discriminated against for state filing and 300 days for federal filing (EEOC). While it’s not necessary to have an attorney to file a claim with either agency, it is highly recommended.

You also have the option of filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the offender in a sex discrimination case. Consulting with a civil rights attorney helps you identify if this is the best course of action. Some employment contracts call for mandated mediation with an employer before legal action can be pursued. Your attorney can review your case and provide guidance based on your unique situation.

You don’t have to tolerate sexism at work

Sexist attitudes and practices have no place in the 21st century workforce. You don’t have to tolerate sex discrimination that causes a hostile workplace. Part of challenging this kind of toxic workplace culture includes legal recourse.

Reach out to the experienced civil rights attorneys at Cameron and Russell to schedule your case evaluation. We’ll help you rid your office of gender bias so you can get back to working hard.

Free Speech vs. Hate Speech in N.M.

Americans enjoy free speech among their Constitutional rights. Free speech means you can express your views about a variety of topics without fear of persecution from the federal government. Some people think free speech gives them unlimited rights to say whatever they are thinking, regardless of how offensive or inappropriate it may be for their current audience. While the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in favor of free speech rights, there are times when free speech crosses the line to hate speech. When that happens in New Mexico, it can be possible to be prosecuted.

What is hate speech?

Under U.S. law, there is no legal definition for hate speech. The New Oxford Companion to Law defines the term as any “expression which is likely to cause offense or distress to other individuals on the basis of their association with a particular group” or incite violence against a group based on their race, religion, skin color, sexual identity, ethnicity, disability, or national origin.

As a rule, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects all speech, including that deemed hateful based on the above definition. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision under Snyder v. Phelps provides an example of why hate speech is protected. Hate speech can only be criminalized when its use directly incites criminal activity or violence against a specific person or group.

Limitations of free speech in New Mexico

Legal and Constitutional scholars disagree about what constitutes unprotected speech in different ways. However, even the experts agree there are times when free speech does not protect you from civil or criminal liability. Here are a few times you can be held accountable for the words that leave your lips:

  • Blackmail
  • Child pornography
  • Defamation (including libel and slander)
  • Fighting words
  • Incitement to disregard the law
  • Obscenity
  • Solicitations to commit crimes
  • Verbal threats

Let’s use an example of a group of young men using derogatory terms for a Jewish person they encounter on the street. They use the slurs to incite others around them to launch a physical attack. Not only is this hate speech, but it also rises to the level of a hate crime in New Mexico.

The U.S. Constitution outlines the rights and responsibilities of citizens, including the right to free speech.

Hate speech on the job

Employees can find their free speech rights under fire if they use derogatory terms or slurs directed at coworkers. How is this possible? We need only go back to the words of the First Amendment to understand: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The first five words are the key to how employers and some other entities can limit free speech: Congress shall make no law. In a nutshell, the First Amendment applies to the U.S. government only. The 14th Amendment, which was added on July 9, 1868, extends these rights to state and local governments. Many people confuse their First Amendment rights because they do not understand fully how they work. While the local, state, and federal governments can’t prosecute you for speaking your mind, that protection doesn’t extend to employers and other private entities.

Let’s take for instance social media. If you post a hate-filled rant on your social media accounts that uses derogatory terms for people of color or another ethnicity, your employer could fire you. They may decide your behavior reflects negatively on their company and terminate your employment. The same holds for using ethnic or racial slurs against a coworker. Sure, you have the right to say whatever you want in the workplace. Your employer also has the right to part ways with you because of it.

You could not successfully sue your employer under either of these circumstances for violating your Constitutional right to free speech since they are a private entity.

When hate speech escalates to a hate crime

Sometimes hateful speech can escalate into a hate crime. When that happens, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 applies. Congress passed this legislation, which was signed into law by former President Barack Obama. Violating this law qualifies you for a federal hate crime charge, which carries stiffer penalties. Hate crimes can be misdemeanors or felonies depending on intent and the criminal acts committed. Here are some examples of hate speech that can spiral into hate crime territory.

  • Assault and battery. If you assault someone simply because you do not like their disabled status, ethnicity, race, religion, or sexual orientation, you can be charged with a federal hate crime.
  • Destruction of property. If you destroy someone’s property solely because they are a different race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status, you can be charged with a federal hate crime.
  • Stalking and trespassing. If you follow someone of a different color, race, religion, or other protected class, and trespass onto private property in your pursuit of them, you can face federal hate crime charges.

Penalties for hate speech and hate crimes

Penalties for hate crimes depend on whether you face state or federal charges. You may end up with fines, jail time, or probation. You can be sentenced to complete anti-racism or anger management counseling programs. The punishment is at the discretion of the court within state and federal hate speech and hate crime laws.

If you are the victim of hate speech or a hate crime, it is imperative you consult with an attorney skilled in Constitutional law to protect your rights. Call Cameron & Russell at 505-218-7844 or contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation.

How to Protect Your Civil Rights

Nowadays, lots of people claim their civil rights have been violated. From the right to a fair trial to the right to receive a free and appropriate public education, there are many protections that fall within the scope of civil rights guaranteed to all American citizens. Civil rights laws attempt to guarantee full and equal citizenship regardless of a specific group characteristics like race or gender.

What does it mean to have your civil rights violated? More importantly, how do you protect your civil rights when you believe a breach has occurred? The New Mexico Civil Rights Act allows residents to seek legal action against government entities in state court if they believe their civil rights have been violated. The act also permits the elimination of qualified immunity – the shielding of government workers from personal liability under federal law – as a legal defense in such cases.

What is a civil right?

Before you can determine if your civil rights have been violated, it is helpful to understand what falls under the scope of civil rights in New Mexico. A civil right is a guarantee of equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law. These protections apply to everyone regardless of their gender, race, religion, or other personal characteristics.

Some examples of civil rights include:

  • The right to vote.
  • The right to a fair trial before a jury of your peers.
  • The right to government services.
  • The right to a public education.
  • The right to use public facilities.

Civil rights are not the same as civil liberties. The difference is civil liberties are freedoms secured by placing certain restraints on the government. For example, the right to free speech without fear of prosecution by the government is an example of a civil liberty.

How to know if your civil rights are violated

Civil rights legislation defines a protected class of people who most often are victims of civil rights violations. Protected classes in the U.S. include color, national origin, race, religion, and sex. Protected classes can expand when specific legislation is enacted to include new categories. Some examples of expanding protected classes through legislation include people with disabilities, pregnant women, and LGBTQ+ people.

How do you know if your civil rights are violated? Let’s look at a few common examples to create a clearer picture.

Scenario #1: A police officer pulls over a motorist for a broken taillight. During the stop, the police officer demands to search the person’s vehicle without any justification for the request and arrests the individual when they refuse to comply. This is a violation of the right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Scenario #2: A pregnant woman who qualifies for welfare benefits, including healthcare coverage with prenatal care, has her benefits withheld in violation of federal laws.

Scenario #3: A Black family applies to lease an apartment. The landlord denies the application, stating he prefers to rent to Caucasian tenants only. This is a civil rights violation under the state and federal fair housing and anti-discrimination laws.

These are just a few examples of civil rights violations. Consulting with an attorney knowledgeable in civil rights law in New Mexico can determine whether your rights have been violated.

Suing for civil rights violations

Individuals who believe their civil rights have been violated have recourse under state and federal laws. Thanks to the passage of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, residents of New Mexico now can sue for damages for a violation of state constitutional rights. Under the new provisions, individuals can sue for infringement of freedom of speech, religion, or the right to vote, plus seek restitution if they were unduly or cruelly punished or unlawfully held against their will by governmental agencies.

New Mexico is one of only two states to enact such a law. The other state is Colorado. Civil rights violation claims must be filed in one of two ways. Plaintiffs can file with the relevant government agency or sue in civil court. A civil rights attorney can help determine whether it is best to file in state or federal court. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act sets a cap of $2 million in damages for any governmental entity to pay.

What do if your civil rights are violated

Consulting a civil rights attorney is the most crucial step you can take if you believe your civil rights have been violated. An experienced civil rights lawyer can walk you through the main phases of a civil rights violation lawsuit to ensure your rights are protected every step of the way. They know which laws apply, whether you must file a claim with the government first, and whether you should file your lawsuit in state or federal court. The knowledgeable civil rights team at Cameron and Russell can evaluate all aspects of your case and present all available options. Contact our offices to schedule your case evaluation.

How to Protect Against Worker Retaliation

Worker retaliation can happen any time an employee files a legal claim against their employer. Maybe they were injured on the job and have made a worker’s compensation claim. Perhaps they were the victim of discrimination due to their race or religion. Whatever the reasoning, workers have rights when they pursue legal action or other claims against their employers. Most employers know the law and do not engage in behavior that can land them in hot water. Others may carefully skirt the law and push their luck, hoping workers do not know their rights. Workers who have dared to assert themselves on the job and end up on the receiving end of retaliatory behavior should contact an attorney immediately.

What is worker retaliation?

Punishing employees for asserting their rights in the workplace is called worker retaliation. Some of the common actions that can lead to an employer trying to get back at an employee include:

  • Complaints about workplace discrimination or harassment.
  • Filing for workers’ compensation benefits.
  • Refusing to participate in illegal acts at the direction of an employer.
  • Requesting or taking a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Serving as a witness in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation or any other legal inquiry against an employer.
  • Whistleblowing against an employer to prevent fraudulent or illegal practices.

Employees who face undue consequences after engaging in any of these behaviors have legal grounds for a retaliation claim against their employers.

What is protected activity?

Protected activity is the legal term describing the activities that workers can engage in without fear of retribution from their employers. Most employers understand what constitutes protected activity, but that does not mean they cannot be tempted to retaliate if they think they will not get caught. Here are some examples of things that fall within the legal definition of protected activity:

  • Filing a discrimination complaintagainst a supervisor or other person in a position of authority in the workplace.
  • Organizing a union or other collective bargaining unit to improve employment terms and workplace conditions.
  • Providing information in an investigation against an employer for discrimination or harassment.

These are just a few of the most common examples of protected activity in the workplace. As a rule, any discriminatory behavior as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a protected activity. This includes punitive behavior for any discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, or sexual identity/orientation.

Recognizing the signs of worker retaliation

Sometimes the signs of worker retaliation are clear while other times than can be more subtle. Termination is one of the most obvious signs that an employer is striking out against an employee who dared to engaged in a protected activity. Here are some other ways places of employment can take castigatory actions against employees.

  • Demotion. Employees that previously were on the fast-track for advancement within an organization that suddenly lose status, responsibilities or seniority privileges likely are victims of worker retaliation.
  • Exclusion. Being disinvited to staff meetings, trainings, or other official workplace activities can be a form of workplace punishment from superiors.
  • Negative performance reviews. When a previous star employee suddenly is on the receiving end of poor performance reviews and disciplinary action placed in their employment files, it can be a surefire sign an employer is engaging in vengeful behavior.
  • Reassignment. Reassigning duties and work schedules in a way that causes the employee undue hardship is a form of worker punishment.
  • Salary reductions. Sometimes employers fail to give raises to employees who have angered them by engaging in protected behaviors. Other times they go so far as to reduce their salaries or scheduled hours to punish them financially.

Employment-at-will status worker retaliation

Some employers erroneously think they have protection when they engage in worker retaliation because New Mexico is an “employment-at-will” state. While employment-at-will states can fire employees at any time for any reason, there are limitations. Firing a worker who engaged in a protected activity is one of them. Taking this kind of retaliatory action is a violation of federal employment law. Not only can employers who do this end up with a lawsuit filed against them by the employee, but they also can face fines and other penal actions from the federal government.

How to prove worker retaliation in New Mexico

The burden of proof falls on the employee in worker retaliation cases in New Mexico. There must be clear-cut evidence that an employer engaged in this illegal behavior to win a worker retaliation civil lawsuit. Working with attorneys who understand worker rights in New Mexico is the best move employees can make if they suspect they are victims of worker retaliation. Reach out to Cameron and Russell to schedule your complimentary case review today.

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Bill Russell and Marcus Cameron are the faces behind Cameron & Russell. We go the extra mile for our clients to pursue personal injury claims and provide criminal defense. We approach every case with a fresh eye to detail and the determination to represent our clients to the fullest extent the law allows. We passionately defend clients facing criminal charges, and relentlessly seek out fair compensation for personal injury claims. No matter your situation, we promise to tirelessly represent your legal needs. 

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