NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – The 6th Circuit affirmed a ruling reinstating a police officer to his former position and rank, with back pay, after he was fired for not revealing the full details of his discharge from the military.
Brian Petty was hired by the Nashville Metropolitan Police in 1991 and was a patrol sergeant in 2002.
He was deployed to Kuwait in 2003 as a member of the Army National Guard, and resigned from the police force. While overseas, he was caught making homemade wine in violation of Army rules.
Even though he “offered an innocent explanation for the wine,” 6th Circuit Judge Deborah Cook wrote for the three-judge panel, Petty resigned his commission avoid a military trial. The charges were dropped and Petty was honorably discharged, but his discharge papers indicated that the separation was made “in lieu of trial by court martial.”
Petty sought reinstatement as a Metro police officer in 2005, but was denied because he did not reveal the full details concerning his separation from the military, Cooks wrote.
“Apparently, unsatisfied that Petty’s response ‘explain[ed] in detail’ his charges, the Metropolitan Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) launched an investigation into the veracity with which Petty completed his return-to-work paperwork,” Cook wrote. “Metro has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for dishonesty, and it formally issued a complaint charging Petty with dishonesty during the return-to-work process in April 2005.”
Those charges were dropped, but a second investigation began, focusing on whether Petty doctored his discharge papers. He was not reinstated to his former position, but was given a job answering phones for the department while the second investigation continued. He was fired in 2007 as a result of that investigation.
Metro informed the Peace Officer Standards Training (POST) Commission of the situation, resulting in Petty’s suspension of certification to work as a police officer in Tennessee.
He sued under provisions of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), alleging that Metro had violated his rights by “(1) delaying his rehire for the purpose of subjecting him to Metro’s return-to-work process; (2) failing to reinstate him to his previously held position; and (3) denying him permission to engage in extra-duty employment as a security guard,” Cook wrote.
The district court granted summary judgment to in Metro. Petty appealed.
The 6th Circuit reversed and remanded, with instructions to reinstate Petty to his former rank.
Metro challenged the district court’s ruling on back pay, which it said came to roughly $290,000, and also challenged the reinstatement. The case returned to the 6th Circuit, both Metro and Petty filing cross-appeals.
“We find no fault with the court’s conclusion,” Cook said of the district court’s final ruling. “USERRA prohibits employers from placing ‘additional prerequisites’ on returning veterans seeking to exercise their reemployment rights.”
She added: “Though USERRA may permit Metro to terminate Petty for dishonesty after reemploying him, Metro never restored petty to his position as patrol sergeant. Accordingly, we hold that the district court properly exercised its discretion in awarding Petty back pay and reinstatement under his reemployment claims.”