The Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities said blanket policies against hiring such veterans could be discriminatory because the military has issued so-called bad paper disproportionately to blacks and Latinos as well as service members who are gay or have disabilities.
“We want employers to look at veterans on a case by case basis,” said Cheryl Sharp, a deputy director of the commission.
The guidance makes Connecticut the first state to take the position that discrimination based on discharge status can violate protections based on race, sexual orientation and disability, according to advocates at the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. Illinois also protects veterans against discrimination for unfavorable discharge status, but there, the protections are written into state law and not based on the disparate impact for minorities and others, they say.
The groups cited a 2017 report by the advocacy organization Protect Our Defenders that found black service member were much more likely to have disciplinary action taken against them than whites.
Stephen Kennedy, an Iraq war veteran and a leader of the Connecticut chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the bad paper issued to roughly 15 percent of the current generation of veterans denies them opportunities for careers that ease their transition back to civilian life.
“There is too much bias in the application of discharge characterizations for our employers to use that and know they aren’t turning away incredible talent,” he said.
In its new guidance to employers, CHRO notes that some veterans without honorable discharges were separated from the military for minor infractions such as being late or watching a movie on duty that would not have led to criminal charges in civilian life. It also notes that up until 2011 thousands of gay service members were discharged because of their sexual orientation.
The commission’s announcement follows passage in the Connecticut Senate of a bill that would ensure veterans with other-than-honorable discharges can access state veterans benefits.
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