SKOKIE, Ill. (STMW) — A Marine reservist who earned the Purple Heart during a tour in Iraq filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against his employer in north suburban Skokie, saying he was retaliated against due to his military obligations.
Baldo Bello, who works as an officer with the Skokie Police Department, claims he was forced to use his paid days off to fulfill his duties as a Marine reservist, a direct violation of the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, among others, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Bello, a Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, is required to attend trainings at least once a month, the suit said. In addition, Bello has to attend an annual two-week training exercise with his military unit.
On Sept. 12, 2012, Bello complained to village and police officials about Skokie’s “new military leave of absence policy, which disparately affected members of the military,” according to the suit.
In May 2013, Bello complained again to village and police officials, stating he was being discriminated against based on his military service, according to the suit.
The following month, he was forced to use his regular days off, as opposed to military leave of absence, to fulfill his military obligations, the suit said. Similar instances occurred five more times in 2013, the suit says.
As a result of his complaints, Bello was placed on administrative leave for misconduct in October 2013, the suit said. Prior to that, he had never been disciplined, according to the suit.
A former member of the police department’s tactical mission unit, Bello was later assigned to desk duty, the suit added.
The village has not acknowledged that any new policy was put in place, but issued a brief statement in response to the suit.
“The Village of Skokie is confident that our Military Leave Policy is in full compliance with both state and federal law,” the statement read. “Many Village of Skokie police officers serve in the military, and this is the first complaint the village has ever received.”
Village officials said their attorney would review the complaint in further detail and further statements could be issued later.
Police Union President Mike Cremins said Balbo filed a grievance over the matter last year, but the lawsuit is likely to play out before the grievance is resolved.
Bello joined the Marines in 2001, served two tours overseas and has been with the Skokie Police Department for eight years, the suit said.
The five-count suit is seeking unspecified amount in damages and is suing under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, Illinois Military Leave of Absence Act and the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)