In 2013, while incarcerated in a New York State men’s prison, transgender woman LeslieAnn Manning says that she was raped by another inmate. On January 5, 2015, Cornell Law School’s LGBT Rights Clinic and the Civil Rights Clinic at Cardozo Law School filed a federal civil lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on her behalf.
Manning’s suit names multiple corrections officials, claiming they placed her in a dangerous, unsupervised area knowing she would face harassment, abuse, and rape from other inmates. She alleges that this treatment violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Twenty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case in which a transgender prisoner, Dee Farmer, alleged deliberate indifference to her safety when she was raped in a men’s prison. In that case, Farmer v. Brennan, the Court affirmed that where prison officials are deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner, they violate her Eighth Amendment rights.
Manning, her lawyers assert, was obviously at risk of sexual assault because she is a transgender woman who is also physically weak and frail as a result of several chronic health problems. Yet, New York State required her to work in an area of a men’s maximum-security prison where prisoners were not under adequate correctional staff supervision.
“We decided to pursue this case because so many LGBT people are victims of sexual violence, especially in prison settings, and it needs to stop,” says Susan Hazeldean, director of the LGBT Clinic and co-counsel on Manning’s case. “Rape cannot be tolerated in prison or any other place. No person should face sexual violence, and being subjected to rape should never be the punishment for any crime. We hope that by bringing this case we can win redress for Ms. Manning and raise awareness about this critical issue. Ultimately, we hope we will encourage positive change.”
Zach Dugan ’15 was one of the clinic students who worked on Manning’s case. In collaboration with a fellow student, he worked on the complaint to initiate the lawsuit. With input from Cornell Law and Cardozo Law, he also wrote letters to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) seeking proper medical treatment for Manning. “I think the most important thing I learned was how uncaring the correctional system is,” he says. “Some of the medical requests were so simple . . . it was surprising that DOCCS seemed to do anything it could to avoid helping Ms. Manning.”
“The Cornell LGBT Clinic is one of only a handful of law school clinics dedicated to fighting for LGBT rights,” notes Hazeldean. “While we have made tremendous strides toward LGBT equality over the last few years, there is still so much work to be done. As Ms. Manning’s case shows, there are still LGBT people who face life-threatening violence just because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We are working to make sure every LGBT person is able to live with dignity and safety, free from discrimination and violence.”
Dugan says he would recommend the clinic to other students. “Though it was often more work than an average class, that work will have real-world outcomes and will hopefully benefit Ms. Manning and our other clients,” he says. “I have been in school for eight years now, and it was very motivating knowing that the work done and knowledge gained would result in more than a simple letter grade on my transcript. The work that the clinic does helps people who would likely not receive help from other sources.”