In the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) deputy Scott Montoya volunteered to fight as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, won the Navy Cross for exceptional combat heroics at the 2003 Battle of Baghdad, and returned to the OCSD, where he found colleagues determined to ridicule his service to this nation.
OCSD management officials not only allowed the hostile work environment to exist, but they also participated in the discrimination.
That's the decision this month of a jury of six women and two men who declared that OCSD's treatment of Montoya--who five times ran through enemy fire to rescue wounded individuals--violated the Uniformed Service-members Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA), a federal law that protects returning soldiers from an anti-military animus in the civilian workplace.
Evidence compiled in the case proved that OCSD deputies and higher ranking officers repeatedly tormented Montoya by mocking his combat heroics, spreading false rumors, sabotaging his locker, doctoring documents, encouraging citizens to file complaints against him, calling him "stupid," suggesting they would not back him up on dangerous patrol calls, hiding GPS devices on his personal vehicles, placing surveillance cameras at his home, cursing him in front of citizens and, like high school punks, displaying a large dildo, lubricant bottle and condoms with his deputy gear.
The department's lawyer, William Haluck of Irvine, unsuccessfully lobbied jurors to view the acts as simple "jokes" or "pranks," and repeatedly tried to slime Montoya and his Navy Cross without offering a shred of evidence that the honor wasn't deserved.
Haluck is now telling the jury that despite their finding of a hostile workplace for the war hero--a term, by the way, Montoya refuses to use about himself--the former deputy isn't entitled to any monetary relief because after he complained about his treatment the department found valid, disciplinary reasons to terminate him in 2010.
Whether U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal and the jury will decide OCSD can escape violating USERRA without paying Montoya, who now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is under consideration today.
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The sheriff's department destroyed several years' worth of internal emails before the case got to the jury--records Montoya attorney John Kyle of San Diego said could have potentially underscored the anti-military animus.