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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington State Patrol agrees to pay veteran employees $13 million in back wages

Graduates of the Washington State Patrol Academy await swearing-in at the state Capitol on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

The Washington State Patrol has agreed to pay up to $13 million in back wages to military veterans in their employ who didn’t receive credit for their service in hiring and promotional decisions.

An agreement between the agency and eight current and former employees who sued the patrol alleging violations of state and federal law still must be approved by a Spokane County judge. Attorneys and legal experts say it’s the largest cash payout in a case brought under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a 1994 federal law requiring employers to give military members job protections, honor promotions and other benefits that accrue during service.

Sgt. Christina Martin filed the claim in Spokane County Superior Court in January 2014, along with seven other troopers who agreed to bring a class-action lawsuit against the agency alleging it did not include percentage-point boosts to veterans on hiring and promotion exams required under state law. Spokane attorneys Matt Crotty and Thomas Jarrard, who partnered with two other lawyers in Washington, D.C., to bring the lawsuit, identified 887 patrol employees or applicants who didn’t receive the credit they deserved for their military service, all of whom will be eligible for back pay if the agreement is approved.

Crotty, himself a National Guard reservist, praised Martin and her colleagues for agreeing to stand up for their veteran co-workers.

“They’re all good people. This is something that they didn’t take lightly, they are not litigious people,” he said.

Kyle Moore, a spokesman for the WSP, said the agency has been in full compliance with veteran-related employment laws since January 2013.

“The state patrol is committed to doing the right thing, and treating all our employees fairly,” Moore said. “Veterans are a big part of our workforce. They’re a vital part of our agency.”

A hearing is scheduled before Spokane Superior Court Judge John O. Cooney on June 9 to establish a timeline for those patrol employees affected by the agreement to apply for payment out of an escrow account that will be established to compensate them for the months, and sometimes years, they were waiting to be hired, delays that wouldn’t have occurred if the percentage boosts had been applied to their applications. Crotty said at least one employee’s hire date was delayed by two years, making him eligible for a settlement greater than $100,000.

Cooney will also decide whether to dedicate 27 percent of the settlement amount, or about $3.5 million, to cover attorney fees.

Adjustments to the pension plans for the affected patrol employees will cost an additional $2 million, according to an economist working for the patrol employees.

Sam Wright, a retired Navy captain based in Washington, D.C., who helped craft the federal law and monitors legal cases citing it, said in an email he knew of only two other cases where damages exceeded $1 million.

Crotty said it will likely be several months before veterans receive their back pay. Potential recipients are given an opportunity to opt out of the agreement and negotiate their own settlement before the court’s final approval. Those entitled to settlement amounts will receive notification sometime after the court hearing next month about how to apply.