COURT: County violated former deputy fire marshal’s veterans employment rights

A jury for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington found Kitsap County liable for violating the rights of a returning service member

TACOMA — A jury for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington found Kitsap County liable for violating the rights of a returning service member, according to a March 16 press release by attorney Matthew Z. Crotty, of Crotty & Sons Law Firm, PLLC.

In 2009, Craig Hanson, a Kitsap County deputy fire marshal was ordered to active duty with the Washington Army National Guard. Hanson served three years as an Infantryman and sergeant first class, including a deployment to Iraq.

Hanson attempted to return to full employment at the fire marshal’s office in December 2012 after his military duty ended. Shortly after his return Hanson felt compelled to file complaints with his union, his employer and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. The complaints stem from his return to work when Hanson was asked by his supervisor if he planned to end his National Guard service.

Hanson claimed that as a result of not committing to leave the National Guard he was demoted and denied the basic equipment he needed to do his fire marshal work.

In August 2013, Hanson resigned and filed his case in federal court. Hanson’s trial focused on his claims that he was discriminated against when he did not resign from the National Guard and further retaliated against after he complained about that discrimination.

The claims were brought under the federal veterans’ reemployment rights law, known as the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act or USERRA and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. In an earlier proceeding, Judge Robert Bryan found Kitsap County had violated another provision of USERRA when it denied Hanson proper retirement contributions for the periods of his military service.

The two week trial began on March 2 and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Hanson on his discrimination and retaliation claim, and separately found that the actions of Kitsap County were willful.

“I knew what they were doing was wrong and I am so thankful the jury decided to hold Kitsap County accountable. I just hope this verdict will serve as a reminder to Kitsap County officials and others, so they respect the rights of my fellow veterans,” said Hanson in response to the verdict.

Hanson was represented by the Crotty & Son Law Firm PLLC, Law Office of Thomas G. Jarrard PLLC  and Workland & Witherspoon, Spokane-based law firms whose practices focus on assisting veterans in employment matters.

Kitsap County was represented at trial by its own civil prosecutors, Jacqueline Aufderheide, Debra Boe and Christine Palmer.

Crotty said Hanson will receive approximately $65,000 or possibly more.

“The finding of the county’s willful violation of the law may allow some (or all) of those damages to be doubled,” said Crotty.

He said the law allows for Hanson’s attorneys to ask the court to order the county to pay his’s attorneys’ fees, court costs, and litigation expenses.

“Those numbers will hasn’t been determined yet,” said Crotty.

“Mr. Hanson served our country with honor and distinction in war time. And while he was living in peril, his family made great sacrifices too. So, it was an honor for me to assist him in this case,” said Hanson’s attorney, Thomas G. Jarrard, who has served in the U.S. Marine Corps and Reserves for more than 24 years.

“This was a long and hard fought battle. I appreciate the courage and fortitude that Craig Hanson showed,” said Crotty, a lieutenant colonel in the Washington Army National Guard and the commander of the 341st Military Intelligence Battalion. “He stood up not only for himself but also for his fellow servicemen and women to hold employers accountable. Not too many men or women would have persevered through a case like this. The outcomes of this case will have a positive and lasting effect.”

Added plaintiffs’ counsel Micheal Love, of Workland & Witherspoon, “I am thankful to Mr. Hanson for his service and the integrity he displayed in this case. Despite the burdens and adversity placed on him, he did the right thing.”