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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington State Patrol Agrees To $15M Settlement In Veterans Hiring, Promotion Case

Washington State Patrol
Washington State Patrol Sgt. Christina Martin was the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit.

The Washington State Patrol has agreed to a $15 million settlement in a class action lawsuit over the hiring and promotion of military veterans. The case involves troopers and trooper applicants who did not receive preference points for their service in the military as mandated by state law.

As a result, some weren’t hired by the state patrol. Others like Sgt. Christina Martin—the lead plaintiff in the case—had to wait longer to get promoted.

“I’m not the first person to ask for those points,” Martin said. “I mean there had been many, many troopers in the past who had asked and unfortunately it took this lawsuit to force, I guess, a clarification of the law or an understanding.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Martin and her fellow plaintiffs will be eligible for back pay and benefits. Applicants to the state patrol who did not get hired will also be eligible for payments.

The 2014 lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight current and former troopers, but at least 887 troopers and applicants from as far back as the early 1990s could ultimately benefit from the settlement.

Under state law, the Washington State Patrol is supposed to give military veterans who served in an armed conflict a 10 percent boost on the score they received on any application or promotional test they took. Veterans who did not serve during war time are entitled to a 5 percent increase on their test scores.

Martin served in the Army National Guard while she worked for the State Patrol and deployed to Iraq for two years beginning in 2003. In her case, the lack of veteran’s preferences delayed her promotion to sergeant by seven months and had the ripple effect of delaying her ability to test for lieutenant by two years.

Still, Martin says she harbors no ill will toward her employer.

“I never took it personal,” Martin said. “I love the State Patrol and it was disappointing that it had to go this route, but they did make the correction and I’m just looking forward to this now being fixed and us as an agency being able to recruit more and more veterans.”

In addition to back pay and benefits, under the settlement the state patrol will correct hiring and seniority dates for current and former troopers. An estimated $2 million of the $15 million is to cover additional retirement benefits as a result of those adjustments.

The settlement also requires the State Patrol to implement procedures to ensure that troopers who are called to active duty in the military and then return to work at the patrol are properly award veterans’ preferences.

An agency spokesman said the State Patrol has been properly awarding veterans’ preferences since January 2013, but has not been able to pinpoint why that did not happen in the past. Martin speculates it might be because they are hard to calculate.

Nonetheless, spokesman Kyle Moore said, “The Washington State Patrol is committed to doing the right thing and we need to treat all employees fairly. Our veterans are an important component of our workforce and we need to honor their service by giving them their due.”

In recent years, the Washington State Patrol has been struggling to recruit and retain troopers. Currently the agency has 78 trooper openings. Martin, who supervises one of the agency’s recruiters, said veterans’ preference points are key to competing with other police agencies around the state.

“We are having trouble getting qualified candidates and we love to hire veterans, so I think having this veterans preference issue corrected will help us in our recruiting efforts,” Martin said.

The plaintiffs, who sued in Spokane County Superior Court, sought relief under both state and federal law. According to the law firm representing the plaintiffs, this is the largest settlement in the history of the 1994 federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

The settlement still requires final approval of the court.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."