Balsewicz v. Pawlyk, No. 19-3062 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Wisconsin Department of Corrections policy requires that transgender prisoners taking cross-gender hormones, like Balsewicz, shower separately from inmates who are not transgender or intersex. Balsewicz complained that inmates who were not transgender or intersex were allowed to shower with those who were and identified Rivers as one of those inmates, believing Rivers falsely claimed to be transgender to receive single-cell housing. Rivers and Balsewicz were in a shower house with other inmates. Rivers made threats. Balsewicz reported the incident to Sergeant Pawlyk and repeatedly asked Pawlyk to report her concerns for her personal safety. Other inmates witnessed this interaction. Pawlyk took no action. Two days later, when Rivers and Balsewicz were leaving a dining hall, Rivers without any provocation or warning, punched Balsewicz multiple times in the head. Balsewicz collapsed, lost consciousness, and experienced dizziness and numbness in her face.
Balsewicz filed suit against Pawlyk under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit reversed summary judgment favoring Pawlyk. When a prison official knows that an inmate faces a substantial risk of serious harm, the Eighth Amendment requires that official to take reasonable measures to abate the risk. A reasonable juror could conclude that the threat Balsewicz reported would not expire once the inmates left the shower and that Pawlyk knew Balsewicz faced an ongoing risk of serious harm. Pawlyk is not entitled to qualified immunity.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on July 2, 2020.