A federal appeals court has ruled that the Baltimore City Police Department does not have to pay lost military wages and benefits to police officers who were restricted from joining the National Guard or Reserves before 1986.
Eleven officers who said they wanted to enlist in military units before 1986 sued the department for monies they said they lost as a result of an old policy that barred more than 100 members of the force from being enlisted in the military at once.
Congress changed the law in 1986 to require that governments let their employees enlist, and the Baltimore department later changed its policy to reflect that.
But a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the officers could not apply the 1986 law retroactively in an effort to claim the military pay and benefits they said they were denied.
“We find absolutely no evidence that Congress intended the 1986 amendments to apply retroactively,” the appeals court said in its ruling.
An attorney for the officers could not be reached Tuesday to comment on the case. But an attorney for the police force said the department was within its rights to limit the number of officers who were also doing military duty before 1986.
“Prior to ’86, if the department did not permit enlistment, it was legal,” said William Phelan Jr., the principal counsel for the police department.
While changes to the Veterans Re-employment Rights Act in 1986 made it illegal for governments to deny workers the ability to enlist in the military, Baltimore police did not change their policy until 1990, according to court documents.
The appeals court did not rule Thursday on the claims of 17 other city police officers who applied to join military units between 1986 and 1990. But it said the 11 who tried to enlist before 1986 could not claim lost wages for the 1986-90 period because there was no evidence that they had actually tried to reapply after the law changed.
The 11 officers claimed in court documents that they did not bother to reapply because it would have been futile to do so under the department’s rules, even after the law changed. They did not put their names on a waiting list, for example, to get into the military as openings became available under the 100- officer limit.
But Phelan challenged their assertion the applying to enlist was futile, and the appeals court agreed.
“Some of the people that were on the (waiting) list did get into the Reserves,” Phelan said. “The facts showed that it was not futile.”
The claims of the remaining 17 officers are still pending in U.S. District Court. Phelan said it is uncertain what will become of their cases.