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Prison Worker: I Wore Tampon, Was Fired for 'Smuggling'

Joyce Flores says guards monitoring body cameras mistook the product for contraband
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 25, 2021 8:53 AM CST

(Newser) – A former employee at a Virginia prison says she put in a tampon and headed to work—and for that, she was fired. In a sex discrimination lawsuit, dental hygienist Joyce Flores, 48, says she was interrogated for hours at Augusta Correctional Center on July 17, 2019, after a body scan detected the tampon and guards suspected her of smuggling contraband. She was fired two weeks later. She filed a federal lawsuit in November following an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation, the Virginia Mercury reports. The state Department of Corrections asked a judge to dismiss the suit because Flores hadn't shown her gender was a motivating factor in her firing. US District Judge Thomas Cullen refused Monday. "But for Flores's menstruation and use of a tampon—conditions inextricable from her sex and her child-bearing capacity—she would not have been discharged," Cullen wrote, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

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Flores explains the trouble started when she went to change her tampon and realized she didn't have a new one on her; she removed the saturated one and put toilet paper in her underwear. She was then asked to submit to a second body scan, which looked different from the first—because, she explained, there was no tampon. She offered up menstrual blood as evidence and agreed to searches of her vehicle and work area that she says turned up nothing. Claiming its scanners couldn't tell the difference between feminine hygiene products and contraband, the Virginia DOC barred female visitors from wearing tampons in 2018. The policy was quickly rescinded but visitors wearing tampons were only allowed to see inmates through glass or via video, per the Mercury. Flores says there was no rule against employees using tampons. She wants her job back plus back pay and $300,000 in damages, per the Washington Post. (Read more Virginia stories.)

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