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Lawsuit: State officials discriminated on basis of military service

In a rather fascinating story, both the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Governor Rick Scott have been named in a lawsuit filed by an employee with the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco alleging that he was unlawfully discriminated against on account of his ongoing military service.

According to the 17-page complaint filed in Leon County last month, the employee, a veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was employed as a training coordinator with the ABT. Upon his return to his work in October 2011 following three weeks of military training, he discovered that his office had been moved to the functional equivalent of a storage closet, and that he had been relieved of both his state-issued cellphone and his supervisory capacity.

The complaint goes on to allege that the following month, he was presented with an ultimatum of either accepting a new position in Miami or staying in Tallahassee, where he lived with his wife and two children, in a lower paying position.

Faced with the reality that his third tour of duty was slated to begin, the employee indicated that he was left with little alternative but to accept the demotion/lower paying position.

Upon his arrival home, the complaint states that the employee was still being forced to work in the same storage closet unlike more junior employees, while he was also assigned to a field service job several hours away and denied access to an agency-issued vehicle.

Matters came to a head in September 2013, states the complaint, when the employee's appeals to the governor's office went unanswered, and the DBPR forced him to speak with a counselor after an anonymous official deemed him a "threat to the agency," a claim the counselor later refuted.

The employee, who is seeking punitive and monetary damages, accuses the defendants, including many high-ranking state officials, of violating both state and federal laws by failing to stop discriminatory actions taken against him on account of his military service.

In particular, the lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which expressly states that neither employment nor reemployment can be denied on the basis of a person's military service obligations.  

For their part, the DBPR and Gov. Scott's office have denied the allegations, claiming no such discrimination occurred and that the employee voluntarily accepted the demotion as part of an overall agency reclassification. Both have vowed to fight the matter in court.

It will be interesting to see what transpires in this unique case. In the meantime, those who have been victimized by any form of workplace discrimination should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can work to protect and enforce their rights.

Source: Navy Times, "Soldier sues Florida for discrimination," Sept. 19, 2014

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