An Army Reserve officer whose employer – a New York police department – docked vacation pay and time for periods he deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq won a lawsuit against the department on Thursday – a jury verdict that will cost the town about $50,000.
"I'm happy to be able to say it's done, it's finished," Lt. Col. Timothy H. Wright told Military.com on Friday. "Hopefully, it will benefit other reserve [personnel]."
Wright filed suit against the Jamestown Police Department in 2007 under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which is intended to safeguard the employment of reservists called up to active duty. Wright, a civil affairs officer, deployed to Iraq in 2004 and later served two six-month deployments to Afghanistan beginning in 2009.
He is now the commander of 1st Battalion, 390th Regiment, 98th Division in Buffalo, and also a part-time chief of police in the town of Carroll, New York.
He retired from the Jamestown Police Department in 2012.
"I had a bulls-eye on me the entire time I was there" after filing the lawsuit, he said. The department was "toxic," he said, as co-workers afraid of being seen as too close to him kept their distance for fear of retaliation.
"It was hard on me, but it was harder on my family," he said.
Tully Rinckey, the law firm that represented Wright, estimated that damages awarded to the officer will be about $50,000. The town may also be required to pay Wright's legal fees, a spokesman for the firm said.
Michael Macomber, who represented Wright before the Chautauqua Supreme Court in Mayville, New York, said Jamestown could appeal the court's finding but has not indicated whether it would. About two and a half years ago the same court granted Wright's motion for a summary judgment, stating at the time that he is "entitled to receive his vacation and leave time as if he had been continuously employed."
Jamestown appealed that decision, he said, resulting in the case being remanded for trial.
"The jury sent a clear message to employers," Macomber said. "Employers should not trample the employment rights of service members, and there is a high price to pay for employers who willfully violate USERRA."
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