On Sept. 13, 2021, Martin Johnson and Jane Doe filed a proposed nationwide class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of Air Force veterans who have experienced discrimination at the Air Force Discharge Review Board (AFDRB) on the basis of their disabilities.
The Air Force forcibly separates thousands of servicemembers from the military with less-than-Honorable discharges due to minor infractions every year, refusing to acknowledge the role mental health or sexual trauma plays in shaping the conduct that led to their discharge. This less-than-Honorable discharge (known as “bad paper”) follows veterans for their entire lives, impairing employment prospects and restricting access to critical government services like GI Bill education benefits, mental health treatment, and disability benefits.
Recognizing the unjust repercussions of less-than-Honorable discharges, Congress established the AFDRB to provide a pathway for veterans to seek relief. Johnson v. Kendall comes in response to the AFDRB’s failure to adequately consider the impact traumatic brain injuries, mental health conditions, or military sexual trauma can have on conduct during service and its failure to apply binding regulatory and statutory guidance respecting those conditions in its adjudications. As named plaintiffs of the proposed class, Johnson and Doe allege that the AFDRB discriminates against individuals with disabilities by failing to consider the impact that their mental health conditions had on their conduct.
Following extensive settlement negotiations, the parties reached an agreement on April 24, 2023. On Sept. 26, 2023, Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut granted preliminary approval to the settlement, writing that “the proposed settlement addresses the needs and circumstances of the member class, consisting of a diverse group of Air Force veterans of the Nation’s most recent wars.” The Court will hold a hearing on Dec. 4, 2023 to determine whether to grant final approval. For additional information about the proposed agreement, including a summary of the settlement terms, the class notice, and information about how to participate in the December 4 hearing, please visit www.JohnsonAirForceSettlement.com.
Selected Court Documents
Class Notice (approved September 26, 2023)
Preliminary Ruling on Proposed Settlement (filed September 26, 2023)
Supplementary Order on Preliminary Ruling on Proposed Settlement (filed September 26, 2023)
Settlement Agreement (filed April 24, 2023)
Complaint (filed September 13, 2021)
Memorandum in Support of Class Certification (filed September 13, 2021)
Selected Media Coverage
Air Force Discharges to be Reviewed After Settlement Involving CT Veteran, NBC Connecticut (September 28, 2023).
Thomas Novelly, Air Force Will Review Thousands of Discharges Related to Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD Following Legal Settlement, Military.com (September 28, 2023).
Unshin Lee Harpley, DAF to Review Thousands of Discharges For Airmen With Mental Health Conditions or Trauma, Air & Space Forces Magazine (September 28, 2023)
Patricia Kime, Air Force Veterans Seek Class-Action Suit over Trauma Consideration in Discharges, Military.com (September 13, 2021).
Nikki Wentling, Two Veterans File Class-Action Lawsuit against Air Force over ‘Bad Paper' Discharges, Stars & Stripes (September 13, 2021).
Abraham Jewett, Air Force Doesn’t Care About Mental Health When Discharging Members, a New Class Action Lawsuit Claims, Top Class Actions (September 15, 2021).
Robert Storace, Connecticut Federal Lawsuit Challenges US Air Force Policy on Less-Than-Honorable Discharges, Law.com (September 14, 2021).