NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - An Iraq war veteran who filed a lawsuit against the Metro Nashville police department for reassigning him and then firing him after a deployment has won an appeal over back pay and damages.
For the second time in the case, a federal appeals court has ruled in favor of Brian Petty, a former Army reservist who sued the police department in 2005 because they did not reinstate him as a patrol sergeant after returning from a deployment.
Petty argued that he was entitled to his old job under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and that he faced discrimination because of his military service.
After the first appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he was reinstated to his position in 2010. And in a ruling issued Tuesday, a three-judge panel of court upheld the district court's decision to award Petty nearly $300,000 in back pay and damages.
Petty, who was hired by the police department in 1991, was called up by the Army for a deployment and was sent to Kuwait around February 2004 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Kuwait, he was accused of making homemade wine, in violation of military rules. He ultimately resigned his commission and the charges were dropped and his separation was determined to be under honorable conditions.
When he returned to Nashville, the department put him through the same return-to-work process for all officers who have returned from an extended leave of absence. During the process, he was questioned about the military charge he faced while in Kuwait.
The department did not initially return him to his job as a patrol officer but instead assigned him to answering phones. The department also denied him permission to moonlight as a security guard, which he had done previously.
At the same time, the police department started an internal investigation into whether he was being truthful in his paperwork about why he left military service.
The district court initially sided with the police department and issued a summary judgment dismissing Petty's petition.
In 2007, Petty was terminated from the department on charges of submitting false or inaccurate reports and violating department policy on being honest and truthful during the re-employment process. After winning his first appeal, the district court ordered him to be reinstated to the police department in 2010, where he currently is employed as a patrol sergeant.
The federal appeals court ruled the USERRA's reemployment provisions required that the department rehire him at his same position, regardless of any honesty issues that arose during the rehiring process.
"USERRA prohibits employers from placing `additional prerequisites' on returning veterans seeking to exercise their reemployment rights," according to the ruling written by Circuit Court Judge Deborah L. Cook.
After a bench trial, the court ordered that he was due nearly of $299,175.10 in back pay and damages.
Metro attorney Kevin Klein said the police department changed their process for rehiring veterans as a result of the federal appeals court's first ruling in the case.
"You go right back to work as soon as you want to," Klein said of the current rehiring process for veterans. "There's no testing or hoops you have to jump through."
He said they will look at the ruling and determine whether they intend to appeal.
Plaintiff's attorney Michael Wall said this ruling should be the end of the case for Petty.
"Our success in our case changed the way the Metro police department treats all returning veterans," Wall said Tuesday. "... We are just glad to bring it to a conclusion and we are very happy with the outcome."
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