A recent decision by the Connecticut Appellate Court could help local veterans who have been wrongfully terminated because of their military service.
Brian O'Toole was a member of the Connecticut Army National Guard in 2004 when he received orders to deploy to Iraq. At the time, he was working at a manufacturer in Watertown. O'Toole's attorney, Eric Brown, said that's when his client got some bad news.
Brown recounted that O'Toole "had been going to some training prior to that, and when he received his orders to deploy, he was terminated." O'Toole sued his employer for discrimination in State Superior Court, under a federal law known as USERRA. The law states that members of the military have the right to be re-employed in a civilian job if they must leave temporarily while serving in the Armed Forces.
Brown said the court dismissed the suit, telling O'Toole, a Naugatuck resident, that he'd have to make his claim in federal court. Brown said, "[It] is a bit more demanding than state court, and it's not local. There are really only three federal courthouses that you can go to in Connecticut: New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport."
They appealed, and just last week, the state Appellate Court overturned the dismissal, which means Connecticut veterans can file workplace discrimination suits in state court.
Today, O'Toole is retired from the Connecticut Army National Guard, and is a Waterbury police officer. Brown said his client still wants to pursue the lawsuit ten years later, because it sets an important precedent. He said, "Anytime someone in the military deploys, there's plenty of hardship associated with that, by virtue of leaving the family and going to a war zone. In this case, he also had to deal with the uncertainty of how he was going to find work afterwards, and how to pay his bills. Fortunately, for him, he was able to land on his feet. But that doesn't change the fact we believe he was terminated because of military service, and that's intolerable. That type of thing needs to be enforced by the courts of the state of Connecticut, and now it can be."
O'Toole's former employer could not be reached by deadline.