The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico have filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Defense Department’s policy of cutting in half the separation pay of service members who have been honorably discharged for being gay.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Richard Collins, a former staff sergeant in the Air Force who served for nine years until he was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
According to the ACLU, Collins was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico when two civilian co-workers observed him exchange a kiss with his civilian boyfriend and reported it to his superiors. The kiss occurred while Collins and his boyfriend were in a car stopped at an intersection 10 miles off base and while Collins was off duty and out of uniform.
Collins received an honorable discharge from the Air Force but discovered after the discharge had been completed that his separation pay had been cut in half on the grounds of “homosexuality.”
Federal law entitles service members to separation pay if they have been involuntarily discharged from the military after completing at least six years of service, reports the ACLU.
But in 1991, the Defense Department adopted an internal policy that automatically cuts a former service member’s separation pay in half if the service member is discharged because of “homosexuality.”
The separation pay policy was adopted two years before Congress enacted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute. The ACLU and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network contacted the Defense Department in November 2009 to request that the separation pay policy be revised to eliminate the discrimination against gay and lesbian service members, but the department has refused to do so.
The class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on Wednesday. The ACLU estimates that over 100 former service members will qualify as part of the class of plaintiffs because they received honorable discharges and were otherwise eligible for full separation pay, but had that pay cut in half because they are gay.
The separation pay policy is not part of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute, and can be changed without congressional approval.