Federal Appeals Court Finds Coast Guard Illegally Forced Senior Enlisted into Retirement

A U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer rappels over the water
A U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer rappels over the water as he is pulled aboard a MH-60T helicopter with a rescue mannequin during a search and rescue demonstration during Fleet Week New York, May 25, 2024. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tiffany Savoie)

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Coast Guard illegally forced hundreds of senior enlisted members into retirement while arguing the move was meant to help it restructure the force.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a lower court's 2021 decision that the Coast Guard's use of "Career Retention Screening Panels" to separate service members who were E-7 or higher was a violation of federal law, according to a ruling released in March.

The original case was filed by several Coast Guard veterans who had served 20 or more years and were all forced to retire between 2012 and 2014, but the complaint noted it was "brought on behalf of the hundreds of Coast Guard members who were involuntarily retired." It asked the court to void their involuntary retirements and provide back pay.

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A court document filed by lawyers for the veterans on Friday says that, since the Coast Guard passed its deadline to file for review by the Supreme Court, the appellate judgment in their favor is now final.

Nathan Mammen, the lawyer who represented the Coast Guard veterans in the case, said in a social media post Tuesday that the development was "a fantastic win for hundreds of senior Coast Guard veterans who served our country for decades."

Stars and Stripes was the first outlet to report the story.

The document filed Friday also says that Mammen and his team have had 237 additional service members who were similarly forced out of the Coast Guard come forward to be part of the legal action.

According to the appeals documents, the Coast Guard legally had the power to convene the retention panels, but the law said that they had to be used as part of an effort to reduce the size of the force.

However, instead, the Coast Guard simply removed the senior enlisted members and promoted others to fill their billets -- a fact that the government didn't dispute during the case.

"The Coast Guard can, if proper procedures are followed, reduce the size of its workforce by reducing billets," the appeals court wrote, before noting that "that practice, though, is not the same as emptying a position simply to fill it with another person."

It is not clear how much any one service member will receive in compensation or how the Coast Guard will determine those figures. However, court records say the overall demand in the case is $70 million.

Stars and Stripes reported that one senior Coast Guard veteran who was a similar situation and sued and settled with the service had his years of service increased by how long his case was in court. He received around $200,000 in back pay.

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