An American lesbian prison guard who suffered mental and physical abuse from a fellow male co-worker for over a year has been awarded $850,000 (£425,000) damages.

The New York State Division of Human Rights ruled in favour of 55-year-old Alicia S. Humig after it was decided that the city’s prison department ignored the abuse she was suffering from Jim Wright, a fellow officer at Wende prison in Alden, New York.

The New York Times reported that the judge recommended the award after saying that the case “reflected the most disturbing nightmare that any employee could find herself in.”

He continued that the prison department “permitted a work environment to flourish where the credible evidence showed that she could have been killed because she is a gay female.”

It was revealed that Humig twice filed written complaints which were generally ignored by prison bosses.

The human rights commissioner, Kumiki Gibson, said:

“This case shocks the conscience. This woman’s life was placed in danger because of her sex and sexual orientation.

“It is vital that the Department of Corrections take immediate steps to end such horrific discriminatory conduct.

“In New York, an employer cannot permit, condone, or facilitate discriminatory abuse and against an employee.

The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination and retaliation in employment based on sex and sexual orientation, among other protected classes.

“The law requires employers to respond, but here they neither responded nor prevented. In fact, they became complicit, a partner in crime.”

In the UK, lesbian, gay and bisexual workers are protected from discrimination thanks to rules which ban direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation driven by a person’s sexual orientation.

The Employment Equality Regulations of 2003 state that any person who discriminates against another will make his employer liable whether or not it is done with their knowledge or approval.

It does act as a defence though for the employer if they take ‘reasonable’ steps in preventing the discrimination from happening.

Gay rights groups in the US are divided over changes to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act currently before Congress after protections for trans people were dropped from the proposed legislation.