Witt trial day one: Former colleagues testify in support of plaintiff

by on September 14, 2010  •  In Uncategorized

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

…The first witness, retired Master Sgt. James Schaffer, testified that Witt was exceedingly competent and said her dismissal was so unfair, it was part of the reason he retired in 2007. "It was a rather dishonorable act on the part of the Air Force," Schaffer said. "It should not be about what you are, but who you are."…

Peter Phipps, a Justice Department lawyer representing the Air Force, insisted during his opening statement that Witt's conduct necessitated her firing. That included a long-term relationship with a civilian woman, an affair with a married woman and two earlier relationships with fellow servicewomen, Witt acknowledged in a May deposition.

A 2004 e-mail from the married woman's husband to the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. John Jumper, prompted the investigation into Witt's sexuality. Witt remains in a relationship with that woman, whose husband divorced her.

"By committing adultery, she compromised her integrity and her ability to lead," Phipps said. "Plaintiff set an example of a disregard for Air Force policies."

Witt's discharge therefore eliminated a risk to unit cohesion and morale, he added. He said the support she has received from colleagues is irrelevant; the law's constitutionality doesn't depend on the views of her friends…

Witt acknowledged in her deposition the extramarital affair was not consistent with good "officership." She also said she told two members of her unit about her orientation – forcing them to choose between loyalty to Witt and Air Force policy, the Air Force argues.

Former colleagues who testified Monday disagreed that Witt's firing accomplished anything – especially because it came during a shortage of flight nurses. "We were at war at the time," said Lt. Col. Vincent Oda. "It was the loss of an able flight nurse is what that was."…

One of Witt's lawyers, Sarah Dunne of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state, said in her opening statement that the McChord Air Force Base aeromedical evacuation squadron with which Witt served welcomed gays and lesbians, and it was her dismissal – not her orientation – that caused problems in the unit.

Schaffer, the retired master sergeant, said he went on hundreds of flights with Witt, including several missions to evacuate ill or wounded Americans from the Middle East and Afghanistan. Witt received a standing ovation when she showed up at his retirement party in 2007, he said.

Dunne said Witt received glowing performance reviews that attested to her nursing ability and leadership, even one that was written in 2005, after her suspension. Her suspension came less than a year before she would have earned her full pension.


3 Responses to Witt trial day one: Former colleagues testify in support of plaintiff

  1. Michael Ejercito September 14, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    If Major Witt had, in fact, committed adultery (something she herself acknowledged) and the adultery was the reason for the involuntary separation, then I do not see how her discharge would be reversed.

  2. Nan Hunter September 16, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    When officers are involved in a heterosexual adulterous relationship, there is a list of criteria for when discharge is permitted, mainly addressing the impact if any on the work situation. See Executive Order No. 13262 (2002). Under these criteria, Witt should not have been discharged.

  3. Michael Ejercito September 22, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    In that case, the court would reverse Witt’s discharge on the basis that it violated an executive order from the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, while sidestepping the constitutional question (since Witt would be entitled to the relief she was seeking under that executive order).

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