Former Bemidji professor suing school claiming position was changed during his deployment
BEMIDJI, Minn. --A former Bemidji State University professor and Iraq War veteran is suing the university on claims he was unlawfully kept from resuming his job after a three-year stint in the Middle East. Marty Breaker filed suit last week in Mi...
BEMIDJI, Minn. --A former Bemidji State University professor and Iraq War veteran is suing the university on claims he was unlawfully kept from resuming his job after a three-year stint in the Middle East.
Marty Breaker filed suit last week in Minnesota District Court, where he alleges that BSU and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System broke federal law in 2008 by offering Breaker what he calls a different and diminished role at the university.
"I really thought that I'd be going back to work full time," said Breaker, who lived in Ely and worked for BSU's off-campus business program before ending his military retirement and deploying to Iraq in 2005. "I was absolutely floored when I was having such problems getting my job back. I was shocked."
While he was away, Breaker, 64, said BSU shifted many of his former responsibilities online. He said the university instead offered him an on-campus teaching position, which would have involved a pay cut and Breaker teaching courses different from those he taught in Ely. He declined.
Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, it's illegal for employers to deny jobs to service members returning to the workforce. The act includes an exception for employees who worked in brief or nonrecurrent roles, and who had no reasonable expectation of recovering their jobs.
According to Breaker, BSU claimed he was a brief or nonrecurrent employee, which is a central challenge of the lawsuit.
"Bemidji and I could never agree," he said. "They wouldn't budge from their stance or what they were offering me."
In a statement Wednesday, MnSCU said it wouldn't comment on pending litigation.
"We can, however, state that (MnSCU) takes very seriously its responsibilities under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act," the statement read. "We are proud of the veteran-friendly policies that are in place at our colleges and universities throughout the state and are committed to creating opportunities for Minnesota's veterans, service members and their families."
Phone calls to BSU officials Wednesday were not immediately returned.
Breaker, now a business professor at St. Cloud State University, planned originally to spend a year in Iraq. Having retired as a colonel and served 30 years in the Minnesota National Guard and Army Reserve, Breaker said he felt guilty for avoiding deployment during the Vietnam War.
"Many of my friends served there and didn't come back," Breaker said. "I felt I owed it to my friends to somehow serve the country at the same level."
Breaker twice has been unsuccessful suing the state, but was previously bound by a federal law protecting states from suits concerning the services reemployment act. The Minnesota Legislature recently waived the protection, giving Breaker his standing.
After declining the position at BSU, Breaker enrolled in law school at the University of North Dakota. He is seeking damages for the three years he was in school and unemployed.