TALLAHASSEE -- A decorated combat veteran of war in Iraq and Afghanistan sued Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday, claiming the state illegally eliminated his state job while he was serving his country overseas.
Walter Kreitlow III is a master sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve who was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star during two tours of duty in Iraq. He’s a Republican who said he voted for Scott in 2010 and denied that his filing of a lawsuit seven weeks before the election is politically motivated.
“This is not political,” Kreitlow said. “This is for the citizen soldiers out there who are taken advantage of. They miss out on promotions. They are not given days off.”
Kreitlow, 45, works as a police officer in the state alcoholic beverage and tobacco division, part of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or DBPR. He wants his former job back, and his suit is based on a 2003 law that requires the state to protect jobs of employees on active military duty.
While Kreitlow was at an Army training camp in Kentucky in the fall of 2011 preparing for his third overseas deployment, he says, the DBPR moved his job from his Tallahassee home to Miami as part of a law enforcement consolidation that Scott supported.
“The agency categorically denies that any action affecting Mr. Kreitlow has been as a result of his military participation,” the DBPR said in a 2013 letter to the U.S. Department of Labor, which looked into Kreitlow’s claims for a year but took no action.
The state released documents showing that Kreitlow signed a memo on Nov. 4, 2011, accepting a 7.5 percent pay cut, a demotion from lieutenant to investigator and a year of probation to stay in Tallahassee.
The state produced an email that Kreitlow wrote about a week earlier in which he said he was “excited about the new challenges.”
Kreitlow’s attorney, Thomas Dickens, said he had no choice.
“He was basically backed into a corner and had no choice but to play nice,” Dickens said.
Kreitlow’s lawsuit claims that his new office was a storage closet and that his bosses, without telling him, removed an American flag that he brought back from an Iraq battlefield and displayed at work.
The DBPR said that he got a smaller office because it was the only space left and that he worked mainly in the field. The agency said Kreitlow’s items were put in boxes because the office was getting fresh carpeting.
Kreitlow said that when he first went to Iraq from 2004 to 2006, when Jeb Bush was governor, he received care packages from co-workers, who stayed in touch with his wife and two daughters. But under Scott, he said, “no one contacted my family.”
Kreitlow also alleged that when he sent an email to Scott’s office demanding his old job back, he got a call from the DBPR’s human resources office telling him he needed counseling. The agency declined to respond to that allegation.
Scott, a U.S. Navy veteran, has emphasized his support for veterans throughout his campaign for re-election. He has handed out thousands of commemorative veterans’ service medals and has worn a Navy baseball cap in public appearances and TV interviews.
In a statement, Scott’s office said: “Mr. Kreitlow continues to work at DBPR and we appreciate his continued service to our country and our state.”
DBPR Secretary Kenneth Lawson, a former Marine, said in a statement: “I am confident the courts will conclude we treated and continue to treat Mr. Kreitlow fairly.”