Former Hamilton County jail boss Charmaine McGuffey sues Sheriff Jim Neil, office

CINCINNATI -- The former commander of Hamilton County's jail claims in a federal lawsuit that Sheriff Jim Neil and his staff discriminated against her because she's a woman and because she's gay.

Charmaine McGuffey, 60, also alleged she lost her job because of how she criticized internal investigations into use of force at the jail.

McGuffey filed her lawsuit Wednesday, nearly a year after Neil fired her in what she described as a "biased" investigation that identified her as being "pro-lesbian." It has also been exactly a year since McGuffey told reporters she was "literally locked out of two staff meetings" and the subject of "vicious, hostile rumors" about her personality and management style.


Her multi-count lawsuit alleges sex discrimination, retaliation and wrongful discharge. She previously filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That's a requirement before moving forward with a federal sex discrimination lawsuit.

McGuffey, who said she was the first female to serve as major of Court and Jail Services, said Chief Deputy Mark Schoonover treated her differently than her male peers.

When she was assigned to oversee the jail, McGuffey alleges she took on the job that three men used to do. She turned around a jail deemed the worst in the state -- failing 68 of 82 minimum standards -- and made it the best of Ohio's large jails by 2016, her lawsuit says.

She also claims she raised concerns about serious use of force incidents to Neil and Schoonover. The sheriff's Internal Affairs section didn't give those cases a proper investigation. 

The I-Team uncovered several use-of-force cases, and an expert said it appears the sheriff's office has been too lax with discipline.

In one instance, records show McGuffey called for a deputy to be arrested and fired. An internal investigation found that deputy, Jason Mize, used excessive force on Mark Myers, then 61 years old. Myers, who suffered cuts to his head and a broken hip, filed a federal lawsuit. Mize resigned from the sheriff's office last February.


Sometimes, McGuffey claims, investigations were designed to protect deputies from from being punished.

When staff working under her were disrespectful, McGuffey claims Neil told her that some men in the department "don't like working for a woman."

McGuffey also claims the sheriff's office advised her to not allow the Cincinnati Enquirer to publish a piece about her wedding because it could be "used against her."

"This comment invokes a conscious stereotype of homosexual deviance," the lawsuit says.

Investigators with the Internal Affairs section asked female employees about the nature of their relationship with McGuffey, the lawsuit claims. No male employees were asked that question.

McGuffey also alleged her male peers got support she didn't have, like being able to choose their subordinate captains and having access to multiple secretaries and administrative assistants.

After working in the sheriff’s office for more than 30 years, McGuffey said she was notified last May she was being fired over an internal investigation claiming she fostered a hostile work environment and was dishonest.

Those were just a cover-up, the lawsuit says: McGuffey believes the real reasons lost her job is because she doesn't fit the stereotype of a woman; because she's a lesbian; and because of how she criticized use-of-force investigations.

Her lawsuit asks for her job back, to be paid her lost pay and benefits, along with other damages and attorneys fees.

Neil's office said it's aware of the lawsuit but does not comment on pending litigation.

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