Guard member sues Vermont over job loss

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(Host)   A member of the Vermont National Guard is suing the state of Vermont, alleging discrimination and wrongful termination.

Daniel Brown of Rutland was working as a temporary corrections officer at the state prison in Springfield last February.  

He says after he notified prison officials that he would be deployed to Afghanistan, he was unfairly passed over for promotion and eventually fired.   

VPR’s Nina Keck has more.

(Keck)   Daniel Brown’s lawsuit alleges that the state of Vermont violated his USERRA rights.  USERRA is short for Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.  Brown’s attorney, Jim Levins, explains. 

(Levins) "In a nutshell, what the law says is that the employer cannot make adverse employment decisions. In other words, can’t decide not to hire, can’t decide not to promote this person, or that, ‘I am going to terminate this person,’ based upon their membership in the National Guard or uniformed services."

(Keck) Levins says he’s got strong evidence that indicates the state did many of those things to his client.  Daniel Brown says his career at the prison seemed to be on track until his superiors learned that he’d be deploying in November.

(Brown) "That’s when everything went down hill. I was getting put on crappy shifts. And I think they were trying to get rid of us one at a time to make it look like, you know, these guys just can’t hack it."

(Keck) Brown is one of several Guard members who worked as temporary officers at the prison and who’ve complained about their treatment there.  But so far Brown is the only one who’s suing. Brown says he repeatedly asked his superiors why he hadn’t been promoted to a permanent position and says it was his training officer who finally told him it had something to do with his Guard service.

(Brown) "He said that there is no reason to give you a full time benefit slot if you’re leaving in 8 months. Those are his exact words out of his mouth."

(Keck) Vermont’s Agency of Human Services, which oversees the Corrections Department, says an investigation into the situation is still ongoing.  The Vermont attorney general’s office will defend the state against the lawsuit.    Assistant Attorney General JJ Tyzbir wouldn’t go on tape, but said he’ll review the allegations and reply by September 14th. Tyzbir says he, too, is a member of the Vermont Air National Guard and takes the matter very seriously.   

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.

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