Former Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King, shown in a 2009 photo, filed a lawsuit over her treatment by Army superiors. An assistant U.S. Attorney has moved to have it dismissed. (Mary Ann Chastain/The Associated Press)
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In a gender and racial discrimination lawsuit brought by the first female commandant of the Army Drill Sergeants School, attorneys for the federal government have asked a judge to dismiss the case, invoking immunity under the Feres doctrine.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Columbia, South Carolina, argues she was improperly suspended by her supervisors, Command Sgt. Maj. John Calpena, and Maj. Gen. Richard Longo. They and Robert Cone, the former commander of Training and Doctrine Command, are named in the suit, filed on Nov. 21.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Terri Hearn Bailey on May 2 filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that claims based on allegations of sex discrimination and improper termination of military employment are barred under the Feres doctrine. The Feres doctrine refers to the 1950 Supreme Court ruling that protects the government from active-duty members who are claiming damages for actions related to military service.
In a previous motion, Bailey denied King was treated improperly. “The Army strongly denies that ... King was treated unfairly or improperly; should this case go to trial, it is prepared to show that she received proper treatment in accordance with all federal laws, Army regulations, and government policies,” Bailey said in a February motion.
TRADOC spokesman Col. Christian Kubik has previously denied wrongdoing in response to King’s allegations, aired in her administrative claims, but he said the Army could not comment in this case, citing the ongoing litigation.
Roughly two years after she took over at the school, King was suspended from the job. She was subsequently reinstated for 13 days and made to hand over the school in a ceremony there in May 2012. In June 2013, she retired after the Army extended her service past her mandatory retirement date. She served 32 years in the Army.
King’s 30-page lawsuit alleges her otherwise stellar career was derailed by her superiors. She was investigated for poor leadership, and later cleared of wrongdoing, but not immediately reinstated as commandant.
The lawsuit alleges Calpena treated King disrespectfully, disparaging her for not being part of combat arms or having deployed to war. The allegations claim he and his former boss, Longo, reverse engineered the investigation as a means of removing King and isolated her from her subordinates during the investigation.
King claims her civil rights were violated in a variety of ways, including discrimination, retaliation and through a hostile work environment. She also claims Longo’s failure to provide a reason for her suspension “created a vacuum into which defamatory statements about CSM King were published.”
She alleges also that Calpena, Longo and Cone denied her liberty and property without due process and further denied her constitutional right to equal protection under the law by discriminating against her because of her race and sex.
King’s lawyer, James Smith, a member of the South Carolina legislature and National Guard, said because King’s lawsuit is a Bivens claim, arguing she was denied her constitutional right to equal protection under the law, the Feres doctrine does not apply.
“We’ve always felt she was fully vindicated by her reinstatement to her position,” Smith said. “But we have not received justice. There has been no accountability and no responsibility.”