Witt wins settlement over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharge

The ACLU of Washington State announced Tuesday that Air Force Reserve nurse Margaret Witt has reached a final settlement with the Department of Defense in her highly publicized litigation to avoid discharge under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

According to an ACLU press release, the DOD has agreed to allow Witt to retire with full benefits and the Department of Justice will drop its appeal of a federal district court ruling in her favor.

Last September, Judge Ronald Leighton of the U.S. District Court for Western Washington ruled that Witt’s sexual orientation did not negatively impact her unit’s morale or unit cohesion and that her discharge under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) violated her Fifth Amendment right to due process.

“I am proud to have played a role in bringing about the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Witt, in a statement released by the ACLU. “I am so pleased that the tens of thousands of lesbians and gays who have served their country honorably will be able to serve openly.”

The Witt v. U.S. case has been a high-profile one and the subject of debate on the floor of the Senate and in the confirmation hearing of the U.S. Supreme Court’s newest member, Elena Kagan. It was just one of several cases that applied pressure to Congress to repeal DADT before a federal court ordered it to do so immediately.

After several failed attempts, Congress did pass legislation to repeal DADT and President Obama signed it last December. DOD officials said earlier this year they expect to satisfy a necessary certification requirement—certifying that repeal can take place without affecting military readiness—about mid-summer this year.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), which has been working to pass repeal, congratulated Witt and the ACLU on their “stunning victory.”

“Today’s events underscore once again the unjust nature of this discriminatory chapter in American history,” said Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN Executive Director, in a statement. “Her case established a new rule of law in the Ninth Circuit, and her voice and story were pivotal in building support for the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ This is not just a victory for Major Witt—it’s a victory for justice and for service members everywhere.”

Witt, 46, joined the Air Force in 1987 and moved quickly up the ranks, becoming a Major in 1999, working with a unit that provided airborne intensive care units for wounded military personnel. She received a number of commendations and even appeared on a recruitment poster. She was discharged in 2006 for having acknowledged she had a relationship with a woman in Tacoma, Washington, where Witt was based. In the initial round of her lawsuit, she won—at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals level—the right to a trial on the merits of her individual discharge under DADT.

During Witt’s trial, DOJ attorneys put on witnesses to discuss Witt’s relationship with a married civilian woman and argued that it was not just Witt’s sexual orientation but also her adulterous behavior to blame for her discharge. The government also noted that Witt had told at least two colleagues she was gay, thus putting them in an awkward position of either keeping silent to protect her or informing superior officers of Witt’s being in violation of the DADT law.

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