Jackson County jail faces formal complaints over security screening that flags bra underwire

Data pix.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The first step in a potential lawsuit is now underway against Jackson County, accusing the jail of sexual discrimination and retaliation.

Attorneys continue to say changes to screening policies that essentially force them to remove underwire bras to gain facility entry are unjust and illegal, and that the sheriff is unwilling to meet them at the table to find a compromise.

"This woman's worked for county 20 years. She deserves better than this," attorney Katherine Myers said.

Charlotte Hardin was fighting back tears as her attorney described the battle she's in with her boss: the Jackson County jail and Sheriff Darryl Forte.

"My client is one of numerous female employees who has been prohibited from entering the detention center because of her underwire bra," Myers said.

The first time Hardin's bra allegedly set off the alarms, she was sent home. The second time, she apparently took it off, put it into a bin for x-ray screening, and tried to pass through security that way.

"She was then placed on paid administrative leave and told her actions we being investigated," Myers said.

That was a month ago. Now Myers, on Hardin's behalf, has filed two formal complaints, issuing a charge of sexual discrimination and retaliation with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

"We believe the treatment of females attempting to enter the jail is simply discriminatory, profoundly humiliating and unlawful," Myers said.

Attorneys protested in the streets and took their concerns over the universal screening policy to the Jackson County Legislature last month. At that time, Sheriff Forte promised a meeting, which attorneys say was scheduled but Forte didn't show.

"The resistance to resolution is what is so baffling to me," attorney Molly Hastings said.

The jail director and sheriff have the ability to monitor all contact visits at the jail and they've said publicly that inmates are strip searched after those meetings to ensure no dangerous items have been shared.

But with no solution to the new security debate in sight, attorneys decided stronger action was needed.

The state and feds have six months or more to sign off on the discrimination complaint. If they do, Hardin can sue. That's a move that could prove even more costly to taxpayers.

"This dredges up a lot of emotion and pain," Myers said. "And that's what discrimination does at the end of the day. This should not be a pride issue. This should not be an ego issue. This an issue of equality."

At least one other woman, who works in legal aid, may also file a formal complaint after being refused entry to the jail, even though she has a doctor's order for wearing an underwire bra to aid a medical condition, which is on file with the jail.

The sheriff's office has declined to talk about this issue further, saying in a statement, "We don't have any information to share regarding this topic at this time."

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