WASHINGTON (CN) – Two officers claim in Federal Court that the Pentagon discriminates against women by keeping them out of ground combat units, posts which are crucial for advanced promotion in the Army.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jane Baldwin and Col. Ellen Haring sued Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Army Secretary John McHugh, Army Deputy Chief of Staff Thomas Bostick and Assistant Secretary of the Army Thomas Lamont, claiming the government’s exclusion of women from combat units violates Fifth Amendment rights of equal protection, the Administrative Procedure Act.
“The DoD and Army policies were developed at a time when wars were fought on a linear battlefield,” the complaint states. “The linear battlefield no longer exists.”
At issue are two polices: a Pentagon policy that “women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground,” and an Army policy that “allows women to serve in any officer or enlisted specialty or position except in those specialties, positions, or units (battalion size or smaller) which are assigned a routine mission to engage in direct combat, or which collocate routinely with units assigned a direct combat mission,” according to the complaint.
Despite these policies, the plaintiffs say, female soldiers are “regularly and deliberately exposed to combat” in modern warfare as demonstrated by the fact that “over 800 women have been wounded and over 130 women have died” during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The futile nature of the existing DoD and Army policies underscores the arbitrariness and irrationality of the female combat exclusion,” the officers say.
They cite a 2007 report in which Army personnel laughed during a discussion of the policies, indicating disbelief that such a policy exists.
According to the complaint, Army officials sidestep the policy by assigning women to “Cultural Support Teams” that “face the same lethal dangers as any other personnel who serve in direct combat.”
The policies also prevent women from serving in long-range reconnaissance operations and Special Operations Forces missions.
“These bans exclude women from thousands of positions in the armed forces, no matter how qualified the women may be as individuals,” the officers say.
Baldwin claims that despite her career of more than 20 years in the Army, including senior drill sergeant, she was banned from applying to two positions solely because of her gender.
Haring, who’s been in the Army for 28 years, says she was denied a position in Special Operations command in favor of a lower-ranking man. Though the position did not involve combat, the less-qualified man had Special Forces experience, which Haring says she was denied because she’s a woman.
“American women have fought and served in every U.S. war, beginning with the Revolutionary War,” states the complaint. “Today, women constitute approximately 14.5 percent of the 1.4 million Active Component Military personnel.”
The officers say: “Absent injunctive relief, defendants’ continued enforcement of the DoD Policy and the Army Policy will prevent plaintiffs from applying for and pursuing their desired assignments, which are currently open only to plaintiffs’ male counterparts. This limitation on plaintiffs’ careers restricts their current and future earnings, their potential for promotion and advancement, and their future retirement benefits.”
They say the discriminatory treatment “stigmatizes” them and causes “irreparable damage to their professional careers and personal dignity.”
They seek a declaration that the Pentagon’s and Army’s exclusionary policies are illegal and unconstitutional, and an injunction preventing them from being enforced.
They are represented by Christopher Sipes, with Covington & Burling.