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State Trooper Vets Get $15M Deal For Denied Preference

May 8, 2017 / Media Coverage / Law360 — Braden Campbell

The state of Washington will pay at least $13 million in cash and contribute at least $2 million in benefits to settle a class action alleging it violated federal law by denying hiring and promotion preference to military veterans, four firms representing the vets said Monday.

The state will pay cash to current and former Washington State Patrol troopers covering back pay and benefits for periods in which the veterans were denied promotions or employment, under a settlement agreement reached Friday. It will also backdate the seniority dates for the veterans, boosting their collective retirement benefits by an estimated $2 million.

“These are law enforcement officials who have served their country and their state, and unfortunately for decades they were denied benefits and preferential treatment that affected wages, retirement and benefits,” Outten & Golden LLP attorney Peter Romer-Friedman, representing the veterans, told Law360 on Monday. “Through this terrific settlement, we believe we’re making them whole.”

A group of state troopers filed suit against the WSP in January 2014 alleging the agency violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act by denying them preferential treatment as required by Washington state law.

Since 1949, the state has required agencies to give military veterans preferential treatment by weighting their scores on entrance and promotional exams.

Under these laws, state agencies must add 10 percent to the application score of a veteran who served in “a period of war or armed conflict” and does not get paid military retirement, add 5 percent to the score of a veteran who did not serve in a period of war or who receives retirement, and add 5 percent to the promotion score for a veteran who was called to service during employment. This last benefit applies to a veteran’s first promotion only. The USERRA also guarantees service members military leave from work when they’re called to active duty.

But the WSP disregarded these laws for decades, the class alleged. According to the veterans’ complaint, the WSP did not boost their applications by the percentages required by state law and forced them to take more nonmilitary leave than should have been required when they were called to active duty.

The settlement pays the veterans the wages they should have been paid and provides them the benefits they should have received had they been hired or promoted when they should have been based on their weighted scores.

The WSP will pay wages and provide benefits to a large proportion of the class outright, however, certain veterans whose eligibility the agency has challenged must prove to a special master that the agency’s failure to assign their exams extra weight hindered their pay or delayed their hire or promotion. The firms’ $15 million estimate does not account for additional payments that may be made to these veterans, Romer-Friedman said. The settlement is the largest ever for a USERRA claim, according to the firms.

The class includes at least 878 members. The settlement covers 769 veterans who were hired as troopers and 109 who applied and were denied.
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The veterans are represented by Peter Romer-Friedman of Outten & Golden LLP, R. Joseph Barton of Block & Leviton LLP, Thomas G. Jarrard of the Law Office of Thomas G. Jarrard PLLC and Matthew Z. Crotty of Crotty & Son Law Firm PLLC.
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The case is Christina Martin et al. v. The State of Washington, et al., case number 2014-02-000016-7, in the Superior Court of the State of Washington, Spokane County.

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