Allegheny County violated state and federal laws when it didn't rehire a military reservist at the end of a lengthy deployment and didn't reinstate his seniority and benefits when it finally rehired him a year later, the Indiana Township man says in federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Barry Wingard, an attorney for the Allegheny County Public Defender's Office, spent slightly more than five years on active duty as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, serving as a judge advocate general for the Defense Department from July 2008 through September 2013.
The county initially said the lieutenant colonel wasn't eligible to be rehired because the law limits the protection to five years from the start of the deployment, but Wingard's orders specifically exempted his service from that limitation, his attorney, Sam Cordes, said.
The county had a copy of the orders and Wingard repeatedly informed it of the exemption, he said.
"I don't know what was going on in their minds here, but the statute is pretty clear," Cordes said.
County spokeswoman Amie Downs declined to comment.
When Wingard asked for his job back, county officials quizzed him about whether he would have further military obligations and didn't rehire him until he retired from the Army Reserve, the lawsuit says.
The county rehired Wingard in December 2014 but claimed he had been on "unauthorized leave" for all of that year and docked his pay by $2,400 for allegedly taking benefit days for which he was ineligible, the lawsuit says.
The county has yet to credit Wingard with the vacation days and other benefits he had accumulated before the deployment, Cordes said.
"They have to provide you with the same seniority and benefits as if you had continued to work there throughout," he said.
The lawsuit seeks reinstatement of those benefits and back pay for the year that Wingard should have been working, Cordes said.