FRESNO — A California Highway Patrol officer sued the agency, saying his managers have harassed him and denied him time off for military assignments with the Air National Guard.
Christopher Lutz is an officer in the CHP's Oakhurst office near Yosemite National Park. He sued last week after trying for months to solve the problems with his supervisors, The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday.
"I've devoted my entire life to service of people, I've never known anything different. But it was tearing me emotionally apart inside, and I just didn't know what to do," Lutz told the newspaper last week after returning from a three-week relief mission to hurricane-ravaged St. Thomas and Puerto Rico.
Lutz joined the California National Guard in 1996, ending up as a pilot in the Air Guard and deploying to missions around the country and abroad. He also a 12-year veteran of the highway patrol.
Lutz said he was told his absences pose a burden to the CHP's Oakhurst office, which only has 19 patrol officers. He acknowledged that he has spent about 200 days on military duty since 2016 but has little say in when he is required to ship out. He said the highway patrol knew he was in the National Guard when he was hired.
Both the CHP and the guard declined to comment on Lutz's lawsuit. But in court papers, the highway patrol asked for the suit to be dismissed, arguing that California does not have to obey the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, a 1994 federal law aimed at protecting guard members from job discrimination based on their military duty.
CHP attorneys argue that the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides "sovereign immunity" to California from the law and that Lutz cannot sue the state for damages under a U.S. law.
"There is no California law that permits USERRA actions against the CHP," the agency said in court filings.