Lawsuit: WSP breaks the law when hiring veterans

SEATTLE -- They are the eyes and ears for drivers across the state, but the Washington State Patrol has dissension in the ranks.

"Somebody has to take this on and make it right," said Christina Martin.

Martin is WSP sergeant and has been with the department for 14 years. She sat alongside fellow sergeant Jason Longoria during an interview with the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers. He is an 18 year veterans of the Patrol.

They both love their jobs and the patrol, but they are part of a group of five troopers suing their own department and the state.

"This is a law in Washington that's not being adhered to," Longoria said.

The lawsuit revolves around the veterans' preference points system. It's a program that is more than 60 years old.

Depending on eligibility, vets can get a 10-percent bonus on tests when applying for a job or five percent on a promotion test.

Martin served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, while Longoria served in West Germany in 1989.

Despite their service, neither one of them have been given those veterans points. Because of that, they say they have lost promotions, seniority and pay raises that they were legally entitled to receive.

"Too many people have asked for this and just taken no for an answer, and that's not acceptable," Martin said.

"The day after the lieutenant's list came out and it said that I was not authorized to get those promotion points," Longoria said.

As far as Olympia is concerned, the long-time law has worked fine. State Senator Steve O'Ban (R-Pierce County) said the suit "is certainly concerning." He has two sons in the military and vows reform on the issue.

Fellow Senator Don Benton (R-Vancouver) agrees.

"Fix it. If it's a glitch or a mistake, fix it," he said.

Benton believes there is no wiggle room for interpretation with the law and that any potential oversight by WSP is "disturbing."

"The state legislature's intent is very clear on the subject," Benton said.

So what exactly happened?

Longoria and Martin say WSP didn't do an adequate job explaining that the preference points were available and that the department didn't always apply them properly.

It is tough to know why because WSP admits it does not know either.

"We're still researching information on this matter going back nearly 15 years," said WSP spokesperson Bob Calkins.

Chief John Batiste and other leaders named in the lawsuit were not made available for comment.

When asked how there could be problems knowing how the system works, Calkins made reference to the Bush/Gore presidential election.

"Even the best legal minds in our country come down to a 5 to 4 decision at the U.S. Supreme Court," he said.

Calkins acknowledges some practices need to change, but they are trying to figure out why WSP is different than other agencies.

The Problem Solvers found that in the Seattle Police Department, points were properly given out more than four dozen times during the last entry exam.

WSP can't even figure out its own policy. When asked if WSP was following the law, Calkins was blunt.

"We don't know at this point," he said.

WSP wants to dismiss the suit on procedure and technicalities about how the case the filed, not the actual allegations.

The president of the WSP Troopers Association, Tom Pillow, says he's battled with WSP for years on this. He was given his veterans points 29 years ago and wants this round of troopers to get back pay and their missing seniority.

"Absolutely they should. If you're doing it wrong, you should come forward and do the right thing by these people," Pillow said.

Senator Benton plans to take action if WSP does not.

"You should be receiving it. Period. End of story. It's not that complicated. It's pretty easy to figure out," he said.

WSP says it has tried to fix the problems for troopers moving forward. it just hasn't made things right for those who have served in the past.

"The WSP needs to make it right. Start doing it right," Martin said.