A federal judge this week awarded a fired Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) deputy $98,629 in new compensation after a 2013 jury found the agency repeatedly discriminated against the officer based on his receipt of the Navy Cross for U.S. Marine combat heroics that earned him a White House ceremony with President George W. Bush.
U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal determined the additional sum for future lost wages was a fair supplement to the $496,006 the jury previously handed Scott Montoya, who is one of the first military officers to take advantage of the Uniform Servicemembers Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a law that prohibits employers from creating hostile work environments for returning soldiers.
During the 2003 Battle of Baghdad, Montoya–who'd taken a leave of absence from OCSD to serve the nation as a Marine Scout Sniper in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks–repeatedly risked his life running through enemy fire to rescue fellow wounded marines and an innocent Iraqi civilian.
But when he returned to his job as a deputy his colleagues mocked him, threatened violence, put a giant dildo and lube bottle in his locker, called him a moron, wrote false reports designed to sabotage his career, encouraged civilians to file complaints about him, gossiped endless about him like third graders, placed hidden surveillance cameras around his house and GPS on his personal vehicle, questioned his girlfriend about his sexual stamina in bed, circulated a department bulletin alleging he might be a mental case and disgracefully asserted they would not provide him backup during high-risk encounters in dangerous sections of the county.
The deputy complained about the abuse in writing and the department largely ignored the situation until high-ranking deputies began building a case to fire him from his $44 per hour job, moves that ultimately ended with his firing.
During a civil trial, a lawyer for the OCSD–which has made a point to recruit military service members–called the abuse, committed for several years, just pranks and even boldly challenged the then 45-year-old Montoya's manhood.
Montoya had hoped Bernal would award future pay until he turned 63 years old and faced retirement, but the President Barack Obama appointee determined the plaintiff's lawyers at Kyle Harris LLP in San Diego had not met their burden of providing him "with the essential data necessary to calculate a reasonably certain front pay award."
Though there's scant case law on the point, Bernal–who is based in Riverside–decided he was comfortable giving Montoya, a PTSD victim, just one year of future pay.
Sheriff's officials declined comment on the judge's action today.