A lesbian member of the West Virginia Air National Guard is suing the military claiming she was passed over for two promotions after a male superior made sexist and homophobic comments, including asking another woman to coach her on appearing more ‘feminine.’
Kristin M. Kingrey, 37, is tall, has short hair and doesn’t wear jewelry or makeup, according to a lawsuit filed against the Army and Air Force in November.
She joined the Air National Guard in 2007 and then was hired for a civilian human resources position while she was still deployed in Qatar around 2019, the suit says.
When she returned to the US, she learned that her superior – Vice Wing Commander Col. Michael Cadle – had asked a female lieutenant colonel to ‘counsel and encourage [her] to grow her hair, begin using makeup and to ultimately appear more feminine,’ the lawsuit states.
The job offer was withdrawn and another application went nowhere. Meanwhile, the lawsuit alleges that she endured more harassment, such as rumors that she was transitioning from female to male and retaliation for filing a formal complaint.
Kingrey still works at the same base in Charleston, West Virginia with the same superiors and the case could take as long as two years to work its way through the court, according to the Daily Beast. The West Virginia National Guard said it hired an outside firm that determined no discrimination or harassment took place.
Kristin M. Kingrey, 37, says she has been ‘frequently harassed for the length of her hair’ and was passed up for a job after a superior made inappropriate comments about her look
Kingrey is suing the Army and Air Force, which operate the West Virginia Air National Guard base she works in. Her lawsuit says she is ‘often perceived as masculine in nature’
Col. Michael O. Cadle (above) allegedly told a female colleague to encourage Kingrey to grow her hair and wear makeup so her career wouldn’t suffer before a job offer was withdrawn
Kingrey filed her lawsuit in the Southern District of West Virginia on November 23.
The lawsuit names Christine Wormuth, the secretary of the Army, and Frank Kendall, secretary of the Air Force. Both branches run the National Guard and the base where Kingrey works.
The 14-year veteran is asking the National Guard to appoint her to the position she initially was offered, along with back pay and compensatory damages.
The 19-page complaint details a number of discriminatory acts that she tried to ‘endure and tolerate’ before filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint in October 2020 and, eventually, a lawsuit.
Kingrey was deployed to Qatar between August 2018 and March 2019. She previously was deployed to Iraq in 2009, where she served with Navy SEALs, according to the West Virginia Gazette Mail.
She said her problems began recently, seeing as there was little time for any issues when she was deployed.
She was offered, and accepted, a position as a Human Resource Specialist in January 2019, while she was still deployed, but when she returned to West Virginia, she learned of a meeting that Cadle had with Lt. Col. Kelly Ambrose.
Kingrey told the Daily Beast that Cadle told Ambrose to advise Kingrey ‘to grow my hair out and start wearing makeup because if I didn’t, it would be detrimental to my career in the West Virginia Air National Guard.
‘I had heard of other females with short hair having issues with people saying things, but I don’t know that progressed to the extent mine did.’
The lawsuit states that Kingrey is ‘often perceived as masculine in nature.’
Ambrose was ‘completely appalled and angered’ by Cadle’s comments, Kingrey told Daily Beast. ‘She knew I was within regulations and did not understand why this was so important. When I found out about the comment, I was truly disheartened and disturbed.’
The lawsuit, filed in November in federal court, says Kingrey has been told her short hair violates regulations
It also alleges that someone began a rumor that Kingrey was transitioning to be a man
The lawsuit states Kingrey got so many complaints about her hair being ‘too short’ that she started, and continues to, carry the Air Force rules around with her to prove she’s not in violation.
Kingrey was also allegedly forced to try on a women’s Honor Guard jacket in front of others to ‘confirm that none of the women’s sizes would fit.’
‘This is about what they think a lesbian female should look like,’ Kingrey told the Daily Beast.
‘It leaves me in such disbelief. They have made this my life. Whenever I discuss it I am at a loss for words. It was a completely unacceptable comment, and a completely unacceptable situation.’
The lawsuit also alleges that a colleague began spreading a rumor that Kingrey was transitioning from male to female. Cadle directed her to work the issue out with the person she believed started the rumor, who is also a lesbian.
Kingrey is still working at the same Charleston, West Virginia base with the same superiors, though she says the case has taken a toll on her mental health and caused her depression
He asked her if she had ever been involved with the other woman, ‘insinuating that the disagreement(s) Plaintiff Kingrey was having with the First Sgt. must be from and/or motivated by a prior intimate relationship as opposed to the First Sgt.’s inappropriate, and discriminatory, comment(s),’ the lawsuit states.
In the spring of 2020, Kingrey got a call that the funding for the job she had accepted had been pulled. The job was reposted about 18 months later and filled by someone else, according to the lawsuit.
In September 2020, she applied for a HR Specialist position. She was allegedly passed over for a non-veteran despite previously receiving relevant training.
She filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint in October 2020. Soon after, she was being investigated for ‘fraternization’ with Ambrose, the woman who she said told her about Cadle’s comments.
She also received her first negative performance review.
‘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. I find it very odd that shortly after I filed my Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint complaint, I find myself under investigation,’ Kingrey told the Daily Beast.
The case could take 18 months to two years to be finalized, according to her attorney Mike Hissam.
Hissam will use the precedent of the Supreme Court’s 2020 Bostock ruling, which held that protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act extend to LGBTQ people.
Kingrey says she was investigated for ‘fraternizing’ and given a negative performance review after she brought her concerns up in the form of a complaint
‘I think even without the Bostock ruling, this is a viable case,’ Hissam told the Daily Beast.
‘Issues around gender conformity and hair and makeup would come under gender discrimination before sexual orientation was added under Title VII. It’s discrimination on the basis of sex regardless of her sexual orientation. There’s a loaded history around sexual orientation that goes back a long time.’
The West Virginia Air National Guard did not respond to requests for comment from DailyMail.com. It told Daily Beast that the incident was investigated.
‘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.
‘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,’ the branch said.
The Air Force and Army did not immediately respond to requests for comment from DailyMail.com. The Department of Defense said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.
The West Virginia National Guard says an outside investigation determined no harassment or discrimination took place against Kingrey. Above, WVNG members at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, West Virginia
Kingrey is still working at the base with the same superiors.
‘The whole thing has made me feel that I don’t belong, and that my career will be hindered,’ she said. ‘But I have not considered quitting. I will not be defeated. They are not going to make me leave something that I truly love, and I truly love putting on the uniform every single day. I love my country, and I love my state, and I have served them both honorably for over 14 years.’
She joined the military at 23, inspired by her uncle, who was in the Air Force and the Air National Guard in West Virginia.
Lately, the case has taken its toll on her mental health. She began therapy over the past couple of months for depression, the Daily Beast reports.
‘I have felt completely lost. I have felt less of a valuable asset and member because of this. It’s very hard mentally, emotionally, and physically,’ she said.
‘There have been many, many sleepless nights because my mind goes over so many different scenarios. I am in such a heightened state of vigilance, only once I get home can I turn that off. It’s like a vicious cycle. There’s no break from it.’
She believes that the National Guard remains entrenched in anti-LGBTQ attitudes more so than other branches in spite of consistent inclusivity training.
‘There is some homophobia, some ignorance, some people just don’t understand. Within the past three years the National Guard has come out heavily on inclusion and diversity. We get all this training. I am hearing the conversation and not seeing the action,’ she said.