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Department of Justice intervenes in retaliatory firing case

A former Queen Anne’s County detective will have the U.S. government’s help in her $10.5 million federal lawsuit alleging she was fired from the sheriff’s department in retaliation for having complained of being sexually assaulted by the sheriff’s brother, her supervising officer.

The Justice Department this week intervened in Kristy Murphy-Taylor’s pending lawsuit, in which she claims she was terminated the day after Sheriff Gary Hofmann’s brother pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in 2011. Murphy-Taylor is suing Hofmann, his brother, the sheriff’s department, Queen Anne’s County and the state in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleging civil rights violations.

“The Department of Justice will not stand by while women are forced to endure unwanted sexual conduct in their workplaces and then penalized for protesting it,” Jocelyn Samuels, principal deputy assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, said in a statement.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division intervened in the case under an agreement it has with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to take the lead in litigation involving job discrimination claims against state or local agencies, the department stated.

The defendants have denied the allegations.

Murphy-Taylor’s attorney, Annapolis solo practitioner Joel L. Katz, said the Justice Department’s intervention is welcomed, as it will reduce his litigation expenses and should make the state, county and sheriff’s department more cooperative with regard to his requests for documents.

State and local agencies “are more inclined to produce requested information for the Justice Department than they would be for a sole practitioner,” Katz said, adding he was beginning to feel like David. “This will even the playing field considerably, not that I have any objection to taking on Goliath.”

Katz, who filed the lawsuit in August, said he had to await a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC before taking the case to court.

Alan Brody, a spokesman for the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The attorney general is representing the state, the sheriff’s department and the sheriff.

“We do not comment on pending cases,” Brody said.

Attorney John F. Breads Jr., who is representing the county, did not return telephone messages seeking comment Tuesday. Breads is director of legal services for the Hanover-based Local Government Insurance Trust.

Hofmann, who was elected sheriff in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, declined to comment at his attorney’s request.

Murphy-Taylor claims in her complaint that she was sitting in the passenger seat of a car being driven by the sheriff’s brother, John Hofmann, in August 2009, when he forcibly reached down her pants with his right hand, removed it and then reached inside her blouse while she yelled for him to stop.

John Hofmann was arrested a year to the month later and charged with second-degree assault and a fourth-degree sexual offense based on information Murphy-Taylor had provided.

Hofmann pleaded guilty to second-degree assault on May 25, 2011, and was sentenced to probation before judgment after he completed a sensitivity training course and evaluation.

The next day, May 26, 2011, Murphy-Taylor received a certified letter from the sheriff’s office stating she was fired because she had exhausted her leave time, which the complaint added was “a blatant lie.”

Murphy-Taylor claims the retaliation did not end with her firing, as Sheriff Hofmann and Major James L. Williams, a supervising officer and a named defendant, made “derogatory and offensive” statements about her personal and professional character to other law enforcement officers in an effort to ensure she did not find a job elsewhere.

The sheriff and the major subsequently “offered” Murphy-Taylor a low-level position in the office but told her that contact with John Hofmann would be unavoidable, her complaint states. She turned down the offer.

In her lawsuit, Murphy-Taylor alleges the defendants violated her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection by condoning the sexual harassment she received and by terminating her without a hearing. The defendants also discriminated against her on the basis of gender in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, she alleges.

“The defendants … discriminated against plaintiff because of her gender by permitting said sexual harassment, placing her in a category separate from other public employees in that she was actually subjected to hostility by her superiors, which deprived her of an opportunity for advancement, and she suffered an economic deprivation and thus was deprived of her right to equal protection of the law,” the complaint states.

Murphy-Taylor and her husband, Donald Taylor, a co-plaintiff, seek $3 million in compensatory damages and $7.5 million in punitive damages against the defendants. Katz, her attorney, has requested a jury trial in the case, over which Judge Ellen L. Hollander is presiding.