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Military discrimination case sets precedent

WA Guardsman receives $485,000 in

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Grace Campbell has high blood pressure, wears a heart-monitoring device and almost lost her home and belongings - all because of her job.

The former Washington National Guard sergeant believed she was tormented and terminated because of her military service. Last week a federal jury in Seattle agreed, awarding Campbell $485,000 and finding that her employer - Catholic Community Services (CCS) - "willfully engaged in discrimination and harassment based on her service." 

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), prohibits employers from harassment, discrimination and retaliation against Soldiers in relation to their service.

"It was hard going to work every day," said Campbell. "They were mean and downright nasty. It hurt so badly because they were people I thought were my friends. People I had mentored were now telling me to shut up and laughing in my face."

It began in 2006 after Campbell, a lead supervisor at CCS, returned from a deployment to the U.S. Mexican border.

"They were resentful because they had to pick up my workload," said the 23-year veteran. "They thought what I did in the military wasn't real work and called it ‘my vacation.'"

When repeated complaints to upper management proved futile, she filed a complaint with the Department of Defense's Employer Support for Guard and Reserves (ESGR) committee. Still, the hostile work environment prevailed.

"I was a Soldier and trained for conflict," said Campbell, "and this was like being in combat at work, but I couldn't quit on my clients. The sick and elderly - they needed my help. When a terminal cancer patient hugs you for the last time to say goodbye, you never forget that."

When she announced an upcoming deployment to Iraq, CCS fired her after 10 years - claiming she'd violated company policy by copying confidential patient information. Upon redeployment, Campbell remained unemployed for two years and almost lost everything. CCS refused to provide job referrals and she couldn't explain away 10 years of work history. 

"This case sends a strong message to employers," said James Beck, Campbell's attorney from Gordon Thomas Honeywell (GTH) in Tacoma. "If they don't take actions and realize their obligation under federal law, the ramifications are serious."

Campbell comes from a long line of Servicemembers - her grandfather, father and four uncles served in WWI and WWII, and her brother served in Vietnam.

She always wanted to be a Soldier, and is so dedicated that in the midst of her ordeal, she convinced a co-worker's son to join the military.

"When his mom saw how it changed him," she said, "she finally understood what the military meant to me."

That co-worker not only testified on her behalf in court, but was also the only person to apologize to Campbell for what she had endured.

This case sets an important precedent, and "it's an issue that's coming up more, particularly with (the Guard and Reserves) since 9/11," said Andrea McNeely, a GTH attorney on the case.

"My name is cleared and people understand now," said Campbell. "I will never feel bad about serving my country or doing my duty."

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