TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that a decorated flight nurse discharged from the Air Force for being gay should be given her job back as soon as possible in the latest legal setback to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton came in a closely watched case as a tense debate has been playing out over the policy. Senate Republicans blocked an effort to lift the ban this week, but two federal judges have ruled against the policy in recent weeks.
Maj. Margaret Witt was discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and sued to get her job back.
A judge in 2006 rejected Witt’s claims that the Air Force violated her rights when it fired her. An appeals court panel overruled him two years later, leaving it to Leighton to determine whether her firing met that standard.
Witt, of Spokane, joined the Air Force in 1987 and was suspended in 2004 just short of retirement after her commanders learned she was in a relationship with a civilian woman. She was a flight nurse with an aeromedical evacuation squadron responsible for transporting and caring for injured soldiers.
Her attorneys, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, insisted that Witt was well respected and liked by her colleagues, that her sexuality never caused problems in the unit, and that her firing actually hurt military goals such as morale, unit cohesion and troop readiness. Several members of the squadron testified to that effect and said they would welcome Witt back to the unit.
Lawyers for the Air Force said such evidence was irrelevant. Military personnel decisions can’t be run by unit referendum, they said.
By Elaine Donnelly
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