Former Hamilton County jail boss sues county, saying she was discriminated against

Former Hamilton County Jail head Charmaine McGuffey has filed a four-count discrimination lawsuit against the county, alleging she was demoted because she is a lesbian and asked questions about use of force by deputies in the jail.

click to enlarge The Hamilton County Justice Center - NICK SWARTSELL
Nick Swartsell
The Hamilton County Justice Center

In a lawsuit filed yesterday, the former head of the Hamilton County Jail says she was ousted from her job last year because she is a lesbian and because she raised questions about use of force by deputies within the jail system. Now, she wants her job back and back pay.

Charmaine McGuffey’s U.S. District Court civil suit against Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Jim Neil, the county and the county commission alleges that her coworkers didn’t like that she was openly gay. McGuffey is alleging four counts of discrimination and retaliation and that she was wrongfully terminated from her job.

In her suit, McGuffey claims male employees were given preferential treatment, that she was left out of management meetings and that some veteran employees under her management, all of whom were male, were insubordinate to her.

McGuffey had been with the county since 1983 and in her role as jail director since 2013. At that time, the jail was among the worst in the state, but under McGuffey’s leadership, it improved to the point where it complied with state standards. McGuffey, the county’s first female jail director, was also lauded for her work helping inmates recover from addiction.

But some in the jail didn’t like her management style, or the fact that McGuffey wanted use-of-force incidents against inmates investigated more thoroughly, she claims. In January, 2017, an employee at the jail filed a complaint alleging a hostile work environment under McGuffey. The county’s internal affairs department launched an investigation into the complaints. That investigation, citing allegations of favoritism, bullying and misleading statements to investigators by McGuffey, led to a demotion in May last year. McGuffey subsequently quit, and now says the investigation was biased.

“Defendants’ articulated reasons for terminating Plaintiff were that she created a hostile work environment and was dishonest,” McGuffey’s suit claims. “These reasons 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 HCSD’s excessive use of force against inmates.”

Sheriff Jim Neil has reprimanded 14 Hamilton County sheriff's deputies for use-of-force violations in the jail. Seven got the lightest punishment possible, while seven more received somewhat more penalties. All are still on the job.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

“Some serious allegations were brought to my attention,” Sheriff Neil said in a statement after McGuffey’s demotion last year. “Throughout the course of a very thorough investigation, these allegations were substantiated.”

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