PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — There are new troubles for the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office.
A part-time sheriff’s deputy has filed a lawsuit alleging the sheriff used military obligations as an excuse not to promote from within.
Jonathan Sutton is an MP in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and a part-time deputy in the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office. And now he is also the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the sheriff’s office for discrimination of his military obligations.
“They can’t be denied promotions, they can’t be denied employment. Their career opportunities cannot be limited,” attorney Tim O’Brien said.
According to court documents, Deputy Sutton joined the sheriff’s office in 2015 on a part-time basis.
“When positions became open, full-time positions, positions of a supervisory nature, he was passed over and less-qualified individuals were placed in those positions,” O’Brien said.
According to the suit, Deputy Sutton’s position in the Reserves directly impacted those decisions.
“There is strong evidence that statements were actually made, that were made by decision-makers, that we are not going to promote Reserve component members, people who serve this country as reservists, because of the fact they have those reserve obligations,” said O’Brien.
The suit was filed under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of military service.
“From 2015 until today, at least 10 individuals have been promoted or brought into the sheriff’s office to full-time positions with no law enforcement experience and who are not active reservists,” attorney Alec Wright said.
Named in the suit is Westmoreland County, the county Sheriff’s Office, and the sheriff himself, Jonathan Held.
In an unrelated case, Held was charged last month with theft of service for using employees to collect political contributions.
“The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for any wage loss, for any loss of career opportunities, it seeks damages for the embarrassment and humiliation when someone is passed over,” O’Brein said.
Even though the paperwork was filed in federal court on Wednesday, it could be a year to a year and a half before it goes to trial. They are asking for a jury to hear the case.
Later on Wednesday, KDKA received a statement from the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office. It said in part:
“We do not discriminate against anyone for any reason. We have over 10 active military personnel and veterans employed in this office.”