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Originally published April 3, 2009 at 5:00 PM | Page modified April 3, 2009 at 10:08 PM

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Army officer sues UW, says Iraq service resulted in demotion

A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve is suing the University of Washington, claiming he was subjected to harassment and demoted from his position as facilities manager at the university because of his service in Iraq.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve is suing the University of Washington, claiming he was subjected to harassment and demoted from his position as facilities manager at the university because of his service in Iraq.

The lawsuit states that James Lukehart, a UW employee since 1992, is protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a 1994 federal law that aims to protect service members from being discriminated against or placed at a disadvantage in their civilian careers because of their military service.

Norm Arkans, a UW spokesman, said Friday that Lukehart's demotion "had absolutely nothing to do with his service in Iraq." He declined to elaborate, saying the university will present its side of the story in court.

Lukehart, who joined the Army in 1971, received orders to deploy to Iraq in June 2006, according to the lawsuit filed last month in King County Superior Court.

Before his deployment, a group of co-workers allegedly accused Lukehart, 53, of "engaging in immoral, if not illegal action" by going to Iraq, the suit says. One of those co-workers is an Iranian who accused Lukehart "of engaging in warfare against his sect in Iraq," according to the lawsuit.

Lukehart returned from Iraq in August 2007 but while he was away, a group of his subordinates lodged allegations of misconduct against him, the suit says. He was told he couldn't come back to work until the investigation was completed.

Though Lukehart's suit says he cooperated with the investigation, he contends he was never notified of the misconduct allegations or subsequent investigation during his deployment.

After his return, university officials refused to to give him any information about the charges against him, the suit claims.

Lukehart was told he "had no need to know either the allegations against him or the source of those allegations," the lawsuit says.

In December 2007, Lukehart agreed to a demotion and to participate "in an intensive counseling program" in order to avoid termination, the suit says.

The suit also claims that since his return, Lukehart has reported continuing harassment and intimidation by some of the same colleagues who'd complained of his military service — including the Iranian co-worker — before he deployed. The university refused to take any action, the suit says.

Lukehart claims he is suffering from depression and requires medical treatment, according to the lawsuit.

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Helen Arnston, an attorney for the UW, declined to comment about the pending litigation. Lukehart's attorney, Sidney Strong, could not be reached for comment.

The university has until later this month to file its response to Lukehart's lawsuit.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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