A female member of the West Virginia Air National Guard is suing the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force for harassment, discrimination and retaliation on the basis of her sexual orientation and perceived gender nonconformity after her superiors allegedly ordered her to appear more feminine.
Tech Sgt. Kristin Kingrey, a 14-year member of the West Virginia Air National Guard, filed her lawsuit in November, naming Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. She revealed her lawsuit in an interview with the Daily Beast on Monday.
Kingrey, who is lesbian, does not wear makeup and keeps her hair cropped short, alleges her male supervisor threatened to stall her career advancement in the West Virginia Air National Guard “unless she began conforming to his vision of a female federal employee.”
Kingrey further alleges her superior, Vice Wing Commander Col. Michael Cadle, made disparaging and “intentionally discriminatory” remarks about her sexual orientation and her perceived gender nonconformity. Col. Cadle allegedly called Lt. Col. Kelly Ambrose, who he instructed to counsel Kingrey on how to appear more feminine, including by growing out her hair and wearing makeup.
At one point in 2019, Ambrose informed Kingrey of Cadle’s disparaging comments. Kingrey told the Daily Beast Ambrose was “completely appalled and angered” by Cadle’s comments. “She knew I was within regulations and did not understand why this was so important.”
Kingrey had accepted a human resources job early on in 2019 and by 2020 was set to begin that job. In the Spring of 2020, after she had already been accepted for the job and after she had been informed of Cadle’s alleged comments, Kingrey was ultimately informed that funding had been rescinded for the human resources job.
The lawsuit alleges that after she was told the funding for her new job had been cut, the job opening was re-posted online and “a straight male employee” was instead hired for the position. Kingrey’s lawsuit described this incident as one of two adverse employment actions her career suffered.
Following the “improper recission” of the first human resources role, Kingrey applied for a different human resources position. The lawsuit claims Kingrey had the appropriate qualifications for the role but despite those qualifications, she had not been selected.
The lawsuit states Cadle served as the Interim Head of HRO, the Human Resource Department within the Joint Force Headquarters, during this period of time where Kingrey had her first human resources role rescinded and was rejected for the other human resources position. Cadle therefore “supervised, directed, instructed, and/or managed” the same people who handled these employment issues with Kingrey.
In October of 2020 following these adverse career decisions, Kingrey filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint (EEOC). In June of 2021, Kingrey was informed that her complaint of discrimination had been rejected. She also came to learn that after filing her EEOC in October of 2020, a parallel investigation had been opened against her alleging “fraternization” or the socializing of service members of different ranks. Ambrose was another subject of the fraternization investigation, as was a third female.
Kingrey suspects the fraternization investigation was retaliation for her EEOC.
“In all my time in the military, no one has blinked when men do it — hunting, going fishing, playing golf, families vacationing together — but here we are, three women, under investigation for the same,” she told The Daily Beast. “I find it very odd that shortly after I filed my Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint I find myself under investigation.”
During this time period of parallel investigations, with Kingrey’s EEOC and the fraternization investigation against her, she received a negative performance appraisal.
The Army and the Air Force have yet to file a legal response to Kingrey’s lawsuit.
In a statement first provided to WV News, a West Virginia National Guard spokesperson said, “The West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) is fully committed to an inclusive and diverse workforce free from harassment.”
“As a matter of policy, the WVNG does not comment on matters that are currently pending in litigation. But generally, the WVNG advised an outside agency who is charged with conducting investigations that are prompt, fair, and impartial in matters like this one,” the West Virginia National Guard statement continued. “They produced a report with the factual record, and it was determined that no discrimination and/or harassment occurred. As such, we are continuing the process to present the facts to fully resolve this matter in the court system.”