Judges OK Tossing of $4.4M Verdict for Disabled Army Vet

Gavel and American flag with scales of justice.
(U.S. Army photo)

A federal appeals court upheld Wednesday a judge's decision to throw out a $4.4 million jury verdict for an Army veteran who lost his hand while serving in Iraq -- only to be ridiculed about his disability by co-workers and a boss while working as a civilian Army employee.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said the district judge didn't abuse his discretion by instead requiring the Army to follow through on its offer to reinstate James McKelvey to a job with higher pay at the Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren.

But the appellate panel reversed U.S. District Judge John O'Meara on another point, concluding that a hostile work environment forced McKelvey, 40, of Macomb Township to quit. So the Army must provide McKelvey with about $100,000 in back pay, his lawyer said.

McKelvey's lawyers -- Kevin Carlson and Joseph Golden of Royal Oak -- said they have mixed feelings about the decision and are mulling their options, which could include asking the entire 6th Circuit bench to review the case. Returning to work in a place where McKelvey was mistreated is a lot to ask, they said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit said it is reviewing the decision, too, but that the Army considers the ruling "a just result."

McKelvey was injured in 2004 when a roadside bomb he was trying to defuse exploded. After recovering, he accepted a job at TACOM in 2006.

McKelvey and the Army differ on what happened next, but the appeals court said a supervisor and co-workers derided him, calling him a "cripple" and "worthless." He said they refused to provide special computer equipment and door handles, excluded him from meetings and told him to stay in his office for months. He said superiors also objected to him parking in a handicapped space even though he had a state permit.

When he complained to the garrison commander, he said he was told: "If you don't like the way you're being treated, go find another job."

He found a job with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office and later Oakland County Emergency Response and Preparedness, where co-workers welcomed him.

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Army Disability