AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – A gay veteran and civil-service employee claims in court that the Texas National Guard retaliated against her after she came out publicly in an LGBT lifestyle magazine four years ago by denying her a promotion and forcing her to retire.
Cynthia Millonzi sued the Texas Adjutant General John Nichols, his department, National Guard Bureau Chief Joseph Lengyl, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and the United States in Austin federal court last week.
Millonzi claims she was passed over for a promotion she was highly qualified for and was investigated for fraud after she was the subject of an article in an LGBT magazine.
The Texan is a veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the "second group to cross the border into Iraq," the complaint states. In 2008, she accepted a dual-status technician job with the Texas National Guard. “As a dual-status technician, Ms. Millonzi wore two hats: one purely military and one purely civilian,” she says.
Millonzi received exemplary reviews in 2012 and 2013 from defendant Nichols, according to the complaint, who said she was “an exceptional officer who continually demonstrates the highest level of performance in her assigned duties.”
Nichols stated that Millonzi "would be well-suited for a promotion to chief of staff," the complaint states.
During that time, Millonzi was the subject of a feature article in an LGBT lifestyle magazine, L Style G Style. In the article, Millonzi reflected on the ability to come out publicly after the military’s "don't ask, don't tell" policy was repealed.
"I'm at the end of my career, and I think it's important for those of us who are leaders that are gay to step up and say it for everyone behind us, so they know that there is a large number of 'us,'" Millonzi said in the article. "We're here and serve proudly with honor."
In the article, Millonzi also brought up another controversial issue: sexual assault in the military. Millonzi claims she was sexually assaulted during her service, and said she didn't realize her male leaders would use their rank to solicit sex.
Millonzi's peers ostracized her for making such accusations, which she cited as "part of the military culture" in the article.
According to the complaint, Adjutant General Nichols' behavior toward Millonzi changed after the article was published in June 2013. A few months later, she was reassigned to a position outside of Nichols' chain of command.
Nichols then directed the Texas National Guard "not to process ID cards or any benefit applications for same-sex couples at state-run facilities," according to the complaint.
Her new superior, B.G. Hamilton, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, brought up the issue of benefits to Millonzi and followed by saying he "did not want anyone going to the press," the complaint states.
"Ms. Millonzi took that statement as an indirect threat to her," according to the lawsuit.
However, in November 2013, the Texas Millitary Department issued a statement saying that, under a new procedure, the Department of Defense “will provide federal personnel, funding, and the use of federal personnel systems to enroll all dependents, including those in same-sex marriages, in benefit programs.”
"This solution ensures that no Texas National Guard personnel in state status will violate the Texas Constitution,” the press release states.
In an interview Wednesday, Millonzi's attorney Colin Walsh said that the shift in procedures spoke to the issue of systemic discrimination in the Texas National Guard, rather than a direct response to his client personally.
In April 2014, Millonzi was passed over for a promotion to chief of staff in favor of another applicant, Scott MacLeod, who is not a party to the lawsuit.
"Within weeks, MacLeod ordered an investigation into Ms. Millonzi's conduct as a civilian employee," the complaint states.
The investigation centered around Millonzi's alleged absences and tardiness as a basis for fraud after a subordinate complained about her, the complaint states.
Millonzi's attorney said that the Texas National Guard utilized "weird procedural mechanisms" regarding her military and civilian dual status in an attempt to retaliate against her.
Walsh explained that dual-status technicians like Millonzi get the "worst of both worlds," and the Texas National Guard used that procedural gray area to "screw her out of her rights."
The investigation was conducted by Col. Amy Cook, who had "targeted and discriminated against gay women before," according to the complaint. Cook is also not a defendant in the lawsuit.
Another officer had previously accused Cook of "creating a hostile environment" for gay women, the complaint states.
After the investigation failed to turn up evidence of fraud regarding Millonzi's leave applications, she filed a gender discrimination complaint in 2014, according to her lawsuit.
In response, her superior Hamilton allegedly gave her an ultimatum: "retire or be terminated and lose all of her benefits.” Millonzi opted to retire.
After Millonzi's termination, she says she filed another Equal Employment Opportunity complaint in 2015.
"Again, the complaint was kicked out without investigation," according to the complaint.
Walsh indicated that Millonzi not only wanted to highlight her own alleged discrimination during her employment with the Texas National Guard, but she also wanted to bring systemic issues to light regarding LGBT military personnel.
"She does not want the [Texas] National Guard to get away with this," the attorney said.
A representative for the Texas National Guard declined to respond to questions about Millonzi’s claims.
"For privacy reasons, the Texas Military Department cannot comment on ongoing legal matters," the representative said in a statement via email Thursday.
Millonzi alleges Title VII discrimination and retaliation as well as violations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and state law. Her attorney, Walsh, works for Rob Wiley PC in Austin.Follow @@jMESSpalmer
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