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Judge advances McGuffey lawsuit against HCSO, citing 'obvious differences' in investigations

Federal trial set for Dec. 7
Sheriff Neil and Major McGuffey
Posted at 11:42 PM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 23:42:16-04

CINCINNATI — A federal judge advanced a lawsuit Thursday brought by former jail commander Charmaine McGuffey against the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, citing “obvious differences” and “sharp contrasts” in the way the department investigated McGuffey versus seven others.

The case stems from McGuffey’s time as Major of Jail and Court Services starting in 2013, the only woman to have held the rank. McGuffey, who is currently running for Sheriff, filed a federal discrimination complaint in 2017, alleging she was fired because she is an openly gay woman and in retaliation for pointing out “excessive use-of-force” and other supervisory issues.

McGuffey also alleges that female officers within the department, “were not respected, were not promoted appropriately, and were really kind of treated like second-class citizens.” McGuffey's suit claims she complained to Sheriff Jim Neil that certain male subordinates treated her disrespectfully, and according to her, Neil said, “you just have to put up with it because they don’t like working for a woman.”

In 2017, McGuffey’s administrative assistant filed a complaint against her for what she and others called bullying and harsh language. After an internal investigation found McGuffey created a “hostile work environment,” Neil offered her a civilian position in the jail. She refused the demotion and Neil terminated her employment.

The Sheriff's Office filed a motion for summary judgment in the case, which would effectively end it before going to trial. U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott denied that motion Thursday.

Of the eight hostile work environment investigations identified in the case, only one — the complaint against McGuffey — was sustained. Additionally, McGuffey's investigation report "spans a massive 108 pages" while the other investigation reports were less than five pages.

Other investigations involving men and heterosexual deputies focused on a specific event in the complaint, but the McGuffey investigation spanned “her entire nearly four-year tenure as Major." Investigators also sought interviews from people who never filed a complaint against McGuffey before, according to court documents.

“The Court concludes that both the (Internal Affairs) conclusions and the unusual nature of the IA investigation itself raise genuine issues of material fact from which jurors could reasonably doubt the employer’s stated explanation,” Dlott’s decision read.

Other hostile work environment investigations that involved heterosexual men resulted in little discipline, the court found, while McGuffey's ended in demotion, and upon refusal, termination.

“The obvious differences in the way these investigations were conducted raise genuine issues of material fact as to pretext," Dlott wrote.

A final pretrial conference is set for Nov. 9 with a trial set to commence on Dec. 7.

Read the full judgment in the viewer below:

Judge denies motion for summary judgment in McGuffey complaint by WCPO Web Team on Scribd