CARSON CITY (AP) — The Justice Department said Tuesday its settlement of a lawsuit against Nevada will help ensure that returning military personnel keep their civilian jobs, while a state official said the agreement ends contentious litigation and is in the state’s fiscal interest.
The case involved allegations that the state controller’s office violated the rights of a returning Army reservist when he didn’t get his top administrative post back under a new administration and after a five-year absence.
The Nevada Board of Examiners approved the settlement last week, agreeing to pay Arthur Ingram III $262,000 in back pay and $211,000 to cover pension benefits for a nine-year period. The agreement was filed in federal court on May 7.
Ingram was hired by former state Controller Kathy Augustine in 2003, and worked as her chief deputy for about four months before he was called up for duty. He was a colonel in the Army and, according to court records, subsequently volunteered for several extended tours, serving in Germany and Washington, D.C.
When Ingram returned to Carson City in 2008, he asked new state Controller Kim Wallin, elected in 2006, for his old job back. Wallin, who had filled the position with her own appointee, said she offered him a different job but he declined, though according to court documents, whether he did or didn’t was in dispute.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sued the state under the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which requires employers to re-employ returning service members to their previous position or one similar in seniority, status and pay.
The DOJ in its complaint alleged that the state also “willfully retaliated” against Ingram by withdrawing an offer to rehire him as a chief accountant and backdating his termination to prevent his vesting in the state pension system.
“Men and women called to active duty need to know they do not have to sacrifice their civilian jobs at home in order to serve our country,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement Tuesday.
State attorneys in court documents questioned Ingram’s qualifications to be chief deputy and noted a letter he had drafted about a week after he began working for Augustine, acknowledging that he was not suited for the job. His resignation was never submitted.
They also said he failed to pass a pre-qualifying test for an alternative position of chief accountant and “failed to make any attempt to do so.”
No wrongdoing is conceded in the settlement, which states that the agreement “shall not be construed as an admission by Nevada of any violations of USERRA, or any other law, rule or regulation dealing with or in connection with equal employment opportunities.”
Wallin in a statement said that while the case involved a military veteran on military leave, it was not about veterans but “the sovereign rights of the state of Nevada and its constitutional officers.”
“The federal government was trying to take way the rights of the state and its elected constitutional officers to appoint their own personal staff,” Wallin said.
But Wallin said the federal government had initially sought more than $1.1 million in the lawsuit. “In this case, it was simply the best course to reach a settlement,” she said.
In 2004, Ingram sued Augustine, his former boss, for sexual harassment, claiming he resisted her sexual advances and as a result was reprimanded and suffered in his job. Though his time in the controller’s office was brief, he said restrictions were placed on him, he was threatened with a letter of insubordination and his duties and responsibilities were limited. He then went on active duty in the Army.
Ingram’s lawsuit against Augustine was dismissed on a technicality.
Augustine denied Ingram’s allegations, telling investigators at the time that Ingram had caused problems and that if he returned, he had to “demonstrate dramatic improvement” or he would be subject to demotions, suspension and termination.
Augustine died in 2006, after being injected with succinylcholine, a paralyzing drug used in hospital emergency rooms. Her husband, critical care nurse Chaz Higgs, was convicted of killing her with the injection.