Justice Department sues on behalf of fired worker

CARSON CITY — The Justice Department sued today on behalf of a former state worker whose sexual harassment lawsuit against former Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine was dismissed on a legal technicality.

The Justice Department lawsuit, filed against the state and the controller's office on behalf of Art Ingram, contends the state violated federal law by not promptly rehiring him and then dismissing him after he returned from active military duty.

Ingram, an Army reservist colonel, was the state's chief deputy controller when he went on active military duty in mid-2003. He tried to get rehired after being discharged in early 2008.

The Justice Department complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Reno, alleges a violation of the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, known as USERRA. The legal action is separate from the sexual harassment lawsuit that Ingram had filed against Augustine in 2004.

Augustine died in 2006 after being injected with succinylcholine, a paralyzing drug used in hospital emergency rooms. Her husband, critical care nurse Chaz Higgs, was later convicted of killing her with the injection.

The Justice Department complaint claims that Ingram sought reemployment with the state but was offered a job "at considerably less pay and status." The complaint alleges that the offer was withdrawn after Ingram filed his USERRA complaint because of the terms of the job offer.

Ingram's separate harassment lawsuit against Augustine was dismissed in 2004 on a legal technicality, according to his lawyer at the time, Mark Mausert of Reno.

In the harassment case, Ingram claimed that he resisted Augustine's sexual advances and as a result was reprimanded and suffered in his job. He said restrictions were placed on him in the office, he was threatened with a letter of insubordination and his duties and responsibilities were limited. At that point, he went on active duty in the Army.

Augustine denied Ingram's allegations, telling investigators at the time that Ingram had caused problems and that if he returned he had to "demonstrate dramatic improvement" or he would be subject to demotions, suspension and termination.