Army vet wins $4.3 million verdict

Posted on October 23, 2009 By Ben Schmidt, freep.com   A former Michigan soldier who lost his hand after an explosion while trying to disarm a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004 won a $4.3 million verdict today against the U.S. Army in a disability discrimination civil case.

  “He proved that the Army created a hostile work environment for him because of his disability.” said Royal Oak attorney Kevin Carlson who won the case along with attorney Joseph Golden.   The attorneys represented James McKelvey, 38, of Macomb Township, who said in a discrimination lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit that a boss and coworker derided him as “the cripple, ” refused to provide him with computer equipment and door handles to accommodate his disabilities, excluded him from meetings and told him to stay in his office cubicle for months on end.   He said superiors also objected to him parking in a handicapped space at the Warren tank arsenal even though he had a state permit.   McKelvey was medically retired from the Army in December 2005. Two months later, he landed a civilian job as a weapons specialist at the Army’s Warren arsenal.   From the outset, he said, coworkers and supervisors harassed and ridiculed him. When he complained, he said, the treatment worsened. Eventually, he was told that if he didn’t like the way he was being treated, he should find a new job, he said.   McKelvey grew up near Ludington and joined the Army after high school. He spent 11 years on active duty as a bomb disposal expert.   After his discharge in 2001, he became an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy assigned to the jail and joined the National Guard.   In late 2003 he wound up in Iraq after his Guard unit was activated. He was severely injured in February 2004, when an explosion caused him to lose his right hand, mangled his left hand, damaged his vision and left him with a significant loss of lung capacity.   He woke up several weeks later and spent 11 months recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where President George W. Bush presented him with a Purple Heart.   The trial lasted two weeks in U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor and ended today after two days of deliberations.   “Mr. McKelvey was an expert in defusing weapons of mass destruction and even with the need for his skills to protect us all, he was subjected to the most vile and vulgar insults and behavior with the full knowledge of his supervisors until he was forced to resign,” Golden said. “Mr. McKelvey survived his wounds in Iraq and asked only to move on with his life. This is not how we should be treating war heroes.”

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