A three-tour veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan has sued Gov. Rick Scott and top officials at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, whom he claims stripped him of his job because of his military service.
But DBPR says Walter Kreitlow accepted a pay cut and demotion during an agency reclassification in 2011 and that they never discriminated against Kreitlow.
The complaint was filed Sept. 9 in Leon County court and claims Scott, DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson, deputy secretary Michael Walker, director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco Allen Douglas and Capt. Ray Owens, ABT district captain, failed to supervise ABT law enforcement chief Vicki Cutliffe's discriminatory practices towards Kreitlow.
The 17-page complaint seeks monetary and punitive damages for violating both state and federal laws that protect those serving in the military, including the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act that says a person cannot be denied employment or reemployment based on their obligation to perform military service.
In October 2011, after spending about three weeks training with the U.S. Army Reserves in Kentucky, Kreitlow returned to work as a training coordinator and was told that his position had been eliminated due to a staffing change. His office was moved to a 5-foot-by-9-foot storage closet with no electricity, phone lines or computer outlets, while his old office sat vacant for more than a year. He was also stripped of supervisory duties and his state-issued cellphone.
In early November, Kreitlow was offered a lieutenant position in Miami, where DBPR said there was a greater need and would have forced him to relocate, or select a lower-paid position as an agent with ABT in Tallahassee, where Kreitlow lives with his wife and two school-aged children.
Kreitlow says the decision to eliminate his position was not a decision influenced by consolidation.
"Rather, it was a calculated decision by defendant Chief (Vicki) Cutcliffe to fire plaintiff Kreitlow because of his obligations to the United States Army as a reservist," the complaint said.
With his deployment to Afghanistan for a third tour looming, Kreitlow said he felt he had "no choice" other than to accept the demotion and pay cut. On Nov. 8, Kreitlow signed the memo to accept his demotion and a pay cut of 7.5 percent, which would go into effect on Veterans Day 2011, according to DBPR documents.
In May 2012, Kreitlow traveled to Afghanistan for a month-long leaders reconnaissance mission but was scheduled to return to ABT before officially being deployed in July. When he came back, his office had been packed up into boxes. Tajiana Ancora-Brown, DBPR spokeswoman, said Kreitlow's office was packed up ahead of a new carpet installation.
While deployed in Afghanistan, Kreitlow sent a complaint via email to Scott's office to express his concerns about his treatment and his demotion, the complaint said.
"In addition to fighting our enemies abroad, I was forced to fight for my job at home," he told reporters on Wednesday.
Kreitlow returned home in July 2013 to the same storage closet while less-senior employees enjoyed standard offices. He was not given a new agency-issued vehicle that he says he was entitled to and was given a field service job two hours away.
Kreitlow went to the governor's office to reiterate his complaint in September 2013. That same month, DBPR said Kreitlow was a "threat to the agency" andhe was forced to speak with a counselor who later deemed him fit to work at DBPR, the filing said. Kreitlow said he was never given any information as to who deemed him a threat or why.
Kreitlow then filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor on Nov. 1. Three days later, they sent a letter to DBPR saying "as a result of the investigation, we have determined that the evidence supports (Kreitlow's) allegations," according to the filing.
"The agency categorically denies that any action affecting Mr. Kreitlow has been as a result of his military participation," said Glenn Abbott, DBPR bureau chief of human resources, in letter to the labor department later that month.
"This agency has historically been very supportive of Mr. Kreitlow's military service and is proud to recognize our active members of the armed services and veterans for their service to this nation," he added.
John Tupps, press secretary for Gov. Scott, gave the following statement regarding the lawsuit Wednesday: "Mr. Kreitlow continues to work at DBPR, and we appreciate Mr. Kreitlow's continued service to our country and state."
"As a Marine myself, any allegation made by a veteran, or service member, who feels they are not being treated fairly I take seriously and address immediately," Secretary Lawson said in a emailed statement Wednesday. "I am proud of this department's commitment to our veterans and I am confident the courts will conclude we treated and continue to treat Mr. Kreitlow fairly."
Tallahassee attorney Thomas Dickens, Kreitlow's lawyer, said he had been in talks with the governor's office for months and they made no offers to Kreitlow.
Dickens said the governor's office said they were prepared to fight in court.
"I never wanted to file a lawsuit. This is not personal," said Kreitlow, a Republican who voted for Scott in 2010. "I simply feel that I have been wronged and need to make this right so I can take care of my family."