Fired DISD Officer Sues District, Claims He Was Terminated Because He's An Iraq War Veteran

Speaking of federal lawsuits ...

Here's another one I found Tuesday morning, filed Monday in the U.S. Northern District of Texas Dallas Division: Rodney Bennett v. Dallas Independent School District.

In the complaint, which you'll find in full on the other side, Bennett says that between 2001 and the end of last August, he worked for the district as a member of its police force till he was demoted and then fired shortly after his return from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Bennett says, and the Army confirms, he was a member of the Army National Guard of Texas. During his tenure as a DISD cop, he was deployed overseas twice -- first to Afghanistan (from March 2005 through June '06), then to Iraq (from May 2007 through March '09). Army Human Resources Command at Fort Knox said late yesterday the Lancaster resident enlisted in '88 and served as what the Army refers to as a "wheeled vehicle mechanic," though in Chris Hawes's Channel 8 story that aired last night, it would appear as though Bennett saw plenty of action while overseas.

According to Army records, four months after Bennett's second tour of duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq, he was discharged from the Army National Guard. An Army spokesman told Unfair Park late yesterday that there is "no record of any disciplinary action in the files we have on him."

Bennett says that upon his return from Iraq in the spring of 2009, the district refused to give him back his old job and that he was "involuntarily demoted to a security guard," then knocked down further still to dispatcher -- "in the process losing status [and] seniority." Finally, says the complaint, on August 31, 2010, he was fired altogether, despite having passed physicals and completed paperwork "that should not have been required of him." The suit claims the DISD violated, among other things, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which "prohibits employer discrimination based on military service or obligation."

And why was he fired? According to the complaint, his termination was ...

... based on the explicitly stated perception expressed by his supervisor Calvin Howard ("Howard") that returning veterans could not function as police officers because of perceived problems associated with the risk of posttraumatic stress syndrome in combat. Defendant, through Howard and others, further insisted upon the necessity of certain physical and psychological examinations not otherwise required of employees returning from leave who were not protected by USERRA and not perceived as disabled.
The DISD hadn't seen the suit when initially asked for comment; I sent a copy to district spokesman Jon Dahlander, who responded via e-mail Tuesday morning, "Like other suits, we'll let our judicial system handle this."

Rodney Bennett v DISD

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky