Air Force ordered to pay $1 million plus back pay to Bellevue man denied job in 2014

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The Air Force must pay a Bellevue man $1 million in damages and attorney fees by Nov. 29 after unlawfully denying him a job as a military historian for medical reasons in 2014, a federal appellate agency has ruled.

David Bighia, 61, is also entitled to a job offer, and 8½ years’ worth of back pay and benefits that could total hundreds of thousands of dollars more, according to the ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Office of Federal Operations.

The appellate decision upheld an EEOC judge’s ruling last December that the Air Force had violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when it withdrew its job offer and refused to make “reasonable accommodation” for Bighia’s medical condition.

The appellate opinion also slapped at the Air Force’s lawyers for arguing that damages should be reduced because the Air Force had actually “partially prevailed” in the December ruling.

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Office of Federal Operations Director Carlton Hadden, who authored the appellate decision, dismissed that argument as “utterly without merit” and “strikingly lacking in any legal support.”

Hadden’s ruling also said Bighia is entitled to nearly $78,000 in compensation for out-of-pocket expenses and $300,000 in “non-compensatory” damages — essentially, punitive damages — the maximum allowed by federal law.

He also directed the Air Force to pay $624,000 in attorney’s fees.

Air Force officials have not yet responded to questions about the case submitted Thursday by a World-Herald reporter.

Bighia, a 16-year Army Reserve veteran, had previously worked as a military historian, including a stint as the 55th Wing historian at Offutt Air Force Base. But he had suffered health and personal setbacks — including surviving two heart attacks — before he applied for the GS-11

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