Manatt’s Craig de Recat, a partner in the firm’s litigation practice, and associate Cherise Latortue successfully represented a pro bono client who had been less than honorably discharged from the United States Navy due to his perceived sexuality. Working alongside the Inner City Law Center and former Manatt associate Luke Punnakanta, the team successfully petitioned to upgrade the client’s discharge characterization to honorable.
While serving in the Navy in the 1970s, Rickey Lane took an unauthorized 15-day absence. He contended that he had faced harassment from his shipmates and from his commanding officer related to being perceived as gay and as a result suffered severe anxiety. Lane was discharged from the Navy, but his discharge was not categorized as honorable. For more than 30 years this prevented him from accessing an array of benefits that veterans are entitled to, including the GI Bill and disability and housing benefits.
Last year, the Inner City Law Center appealed to the Board for Correction of Naval Records to have the discharge upgraded to honorable and administrative. The board granted the administrative discharge classification but would not upgrade it to honorable. Alongside the Inner City Law Center, the Manatt team filed a complaint in Washington federal court to have the decision overturned, and a government attorney recommended they take the complaint back to the Board for Correction of Naval Records on remand.
The team argued that following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Navy was required to change the discharge status if, based on the discharge record, it was clear that the discharge was based on the veteran’s sexuality alone. The board ultimately granted the team’s petition, changing Lane’s records to show that he was discharged with an honorable characterization of service. The Inner City Law Center will continue to work with Lane on navigating the change to his records and will assist him with accessing disability and housing benefits as a result of his upgraded discharge status.