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Gay worker sues after losing job on air base Civilian post depended on being in reserves; he 'told,' was discharged


PHILADELPHIA -- When John Hoffman told his supervisor at the Air Reserve Station in suburban Willow Grove last year that he was gay, it did not occur to him that he could be discharged from the reserves and lose his full-time civilian job as a mechanic on the base.

But that conversation, which Hoffman thought was private and between friends, caused him to lose both positions.

Lawyers from the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union who are representing Hoffman say that while Air Force officials may have been able to discharge Hoffman, a Persian Gulf war veteran, from the reserves under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, they discriminated against him when they dismissed him from the civilian post.

The 51-year-old, who is married and has eight children, is suing to get the civilian job back. His lawyers say the case, to be filed in federal district court in Philadelphia today, is a test of how the Department of Defense can treat civilian employees who admit they are homosexuals. The Pentagon has no policy prohibiting discrimination against civilian employees because of their sexual preference.

"Our feeling is that they did not like John's homosexuality," said Stefan Presser, legal director at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Hoffman's lawyer. "They wanted John off the base."

But Air Force officials said they did not discriminate against Hoffman when they dismissed him from his civilian job maintaining C-130 transport planes.

Maj. Bill Wells, the Air Force lawyer handling the case, said officials followed the rules. Base officials were legally entitled to discharge Hoffman from the reserves, and because being a reservist was a condition for holding the civilian job, the Air Force had to dismiss him from that job as well.

Wells said there were many civilian Air Force employees who were openly homosexual, including at least one at Willow Grove.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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