One year after being ousted from her job overseeing the Hamilton County Jail, Charmaine McGuffey alleged in a lawsuit that she was unfairly demoted because her co-workers didn't like that she was an openly gay woman and top officials retaliated against her for raising concerns about use of force.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, names the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Jim Neil, the county and the county board of commissioners. It alleges four counts of sexual discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.
McGuffey is seeking to get her job back and be awarded back pay, as well as damages.
David Daughterty, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, declined to comment. The office has not yet been served with the lawsuit, he said.
McGuffey's firing shocked the community. After Neil brought her in as the first female major to oversee the jail she won acclaim for helping addicted inmates turn their lives around.
Under her watch, the jail went from the worst in the state to three years later meeting all state standards.
In May 2017 McGuffey was demoted to a lower-paying civilian job after a sheriff's investigation found she created a hostile work environment. She was accused of favoring some employees over others, yelling at subordinates, misleading investigators and bullying her personal assistant.
Instead, McGuffey left.
At the time, McGuffey told The Enquirer: "This investigation, in my opinion, was conducted to taint my reputation and to discredit all the work I have done. This is wrong. This is flat-out wrong."
Wednesday, the lawsuit said, "Plaintiff held each of her subordinates to high standards. As such, plaintiff does not fit heterosexual female stereotypes of passivity and femininity. Instead, plaintiff exhibits demeanor, mannerisms and appearances associated with masculinity."
The lawsuit alleges male majors got preferential treatment, that she was excluded from command staff meetings and that male subordinates were disrespectful to her.
In response to that, the lawsuit says, Neil told her some men in the department "don't like working for a woman."
Shortly before the demotion, McGuffey says in the lawsuit that she raised questions about multiple, serious, use-of-force incidents, which included inmates being injured, repeated violations of the use-of-force policy without proper investigation, false allegations of accidents that were actually the result of use of force, and failure to punish people who violated the use-of-force policy.
The reasons for firing McGuffey, the lawsuit said, "were a false pretext for discriminating and terminating plaintiff because of her gender, her failure to conform to traditional female stereotypes, her sexual orientation and her open criticism of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department's excessive use of force against inmates."
The lawsuit also raises concern about current jail standards.