Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Taking a stand

by Barbara Evans Fleischauer

Sadly, on Sept. 5, 2023, West Virginia lost a heroine: Cindy D. McCrobie was a brave trailblazer who stood up for herself and for all women. Not many people, and not many women, have a Supreme Court case named after them because they fought discrimination, but McCrobie did. I am very proud to have been her attorney in that fight.

Cindy was only 22 when she was hired as the very first female Preston County deputy sheriff in February 1984. She got married the next year to Rich McCrobie, a Department of Natural Resources officer at the time. That was a wise decision — Rich stood by her for the next 38 years.

In January 1986, after two years on the job, she became pregnant. Unlike men in the workforce, Deputy McCrobie’s job was threatened by wanting to have a family.

By April, her deputy uniform no longer fit properly, and she reported to work not wearing it. She was called into the office, sent home and ultimately fired on June 14, 1986.

Of course, the sheriff did not say he fired her because she was a female or because of her pregnancy. The reasons he gave had to do with alleged violations of office leave policies, which McCrobie said were unfairly applied to her situation.

I was a relatively new lawyer when I became involved, but, having been an investigator of discrimination cases in Pennsylvania before law school, I knew she had a good case.

Since she had done nothing wrong, McCrobie filed a grievance with the Preston County Deputy Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission. After a hearing in July 1986, she was ordered to be immediately reinstated but without back pay and without attorney’s fees. The circuit judge eventually upheld that decision.

In September 1986, McCrobie filed a Human Rights Commission complaint, and that agency began a discrimination investigation. A new procedural argument was raised by the sheriff, that McCrobie had picked the civil service grievance process and, therefore, was not entitled to relief from another agency for sex discrimination.

On Dec. 21, 1988, just in time for Christmas, the West Virginia Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Preston County Circuit Court. The court held that the mandatory language in the West Virginia Code about back pay and attorney’s fees had to be followed, and the court ordered that McCrobie be paid her back pay and attorney’s fees.

McCrobie fought for her job and she fought for her family, and she won!

She proudly served for many years as a Preston County deputy sheriff. During that time, she and her husband both kept working as they expanded their family.  McCrobie went on to college, graduating with a dual major in law enforcement and education, and served as a Preston County teacher for many years. In 2022, she was elected to be a Preston County magistrate.

McCrobie was a respected and appreciated public servant, but equally important, she was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister and sister-in-law.

Cindy McCrobie is a part of West Virginia history, or as some people say, her-story.

Barbara Evans Fleischauer served in the West Virginia House of Delegates for 26 years and is a graduate of the WVU College of Law.