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Police officer's military service discrimination case reinstated

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A federal appeals court has reinstated a case filed by a village police officer, who claims he was discriminated against in various ways because of his military affiliation.

The village of Vicksburg, Michigan, hired David E. Eichaker, who served first in the Marine Corps reserves and then in the Air Nation Guard, in 1999, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in David E. Eichaker v. Village of Vicksburg.

Mr. Eichaker typically spent one weekend per month and an additional two weeks in military duty each year, although he occasionally took additional longer leaves of absence for military service or training.

In 2009, after the police chief said he planned to retire, Mr. Eichaker, who was at that point a lieutenant, asked village manager Matthew Crawford about becoming chief himself. Mr. Crawford put him off saying “later,” according to the ruling.

However, another police officer in the department was named to replace the department police chief, and subsequently Mr. Eichaker was demoted twice, first to sergeant and then to patrolman; was excluded from a detail for a military funeral, which would have earned him extra pay, and was billed for health insurance when he was deployed. He resigned from his village police position in 2012.

According to evidence Eichaker provided, Mr. Crawford made comments referring to Mr. Eichaker’s military service as an explanation for the actions taken.

Mr. Eichaker filed suit against the village, charging it with violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan granted the village summary judgment dismissing the case.

A three-judge panel reinstated the case, in a unanimous ruling. “An employer’s concern that an employee is taking too much time off for military service is direct evidence of anti-military animus,” said the ruling.

“Crawford explained his decision to demote Eichacker by referencing Eichacker’s military leaves of absence. That is direct evidence of anti-military animus.

“Thus, Eichaker presented evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find that his military service was a motivating factor in Crawford’s decision to deny him a promotion,” said the appeals court, in reinstating the case, and remanding it for further proceedings.

In 2013, an appeals court ruled that workers returning from military service must be considered for discretionary promotions they might otherwise have received, and not just automatic promotions.