875 F.2d 699 (9th Cir. 1989), 85-4006, Watkins v. United States Army

Docket Nº:85-4006.
Citation:875 F.2d 699
Party Name:Sergeant Perry WATKINS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES ARMY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:May 03, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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875 F.2d 699 (9th Cir. 1989)

Sergeant Perry WATKINS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

UNITED STATES ARMY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 85-4006.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 3, 1989

Argued En Banc and Submitted Oct. 12, 1988.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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James E. Lobsenz, Wolfe, Lobsenz & Cullen, American Civil Liberties Union-Washington State, Seattle, Wash., for plaintiff-appellant.

E. Roy Hawkens, Asst. Atty. Gen., Civil Div., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Before GOODWIN, Chief Judge, SCHROEDER, PREGERSON, ALARCON, NELSON, CANBY, NORRIS, BEEZER, HALL, O'SCANNLAIN, and TROTT, Circuit Judges.

PREGERSON, Circuit Judge:

The United States Army denied Sgt. Perry J. Watkins reenlistment solely because he is a homosexual. The Army refused to reenlist Watkins, a 14-year veteran, even though he had been completely candid about his homosexuality from the start of his Army career, even though he is in all respects an outstanding soldier, and even though the Army, with full knowledge of his homosexuality, had repeatedly permitted him to reenlist in the past. The Army did so despite its longstanding policy that homosexuality was a nonwaivable disqualification for reenlistment. The issue before the en banc court is whether the Army may deny reenlistment to Watkins solely because of his acknowledged homosexuality.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 1

In August 1967, at the age of 19, Perry Watkins was drafted into the United States Army. In filling out the Army's preinduction medical form, he marked "yes" in response to a question asking whether he had homosexual tendencies. The Army nonetheless found Watkins "qualified for admission" and inducted him into its ranks.

During Watkins' initial three-year tour of military duty, he served in the United States and Korea as a chaplain's assistant, personnel specialist, and company clerk. A year after his induction, in 1968, Watkins signed an affidavit stating that he had been a homosexual from the age of 13 and that, since his enlistment, he had engaged in sodomy with two other servicemen, a crime under military law. The Army, which received this affidavit as part of a criminal investigation into Watkins' sexual conduct,

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dropped the investigation because of insufficient evidence.

When his first enlistment period expired in 1970, Watkins received an honorable discharge, but his reenlistment eligibility code was listed as "unknown." In 1971, Watkins requested correction of the reenlistment designation and the Army corrected the code to category 1, "eligible for reentry on active duty." Shortly thereafter, he reenlisted for a second three-year term. In 1972, Watkins was denied a security clearance because of his homosexuality, and the Army again investigated him for allegedly committing sodomy and again terminated the investigation for insufficient evidence. Following another honorable discharge in 1974, the Army accepted Watkins' application for a six-year reenlistment.

In 1975, the Army convened a board of officers to determine whether Watkins should be discharged because of his homosexual tendencies. On this occasion his commanding officer, Captain Bast, testified that Watkins was "the best clerk I have known," that he did "a fantastic job--excellent," and that Watkins' homosexuality did not affect the company. A sergeant testified that Watkins' homosexuality was well-known but caused no problems and generated no complaints from other soldiers. The four officers on the board unanimously found that "Watkins is suitable for retention in the military service" and stated, "In view of the findings, the Board recommends that SP5 Perry J. Watkins be retained in the military service because there is no evidence suggesting that his behavior has had either a degrading effect upon unit performance, morale or discipline, or upon his own job performance. SP5 Watkins is suited for duty in administrative positions and progression through Specialist rating." The board's recommendation became the final decision of the Secretary of the Army.

In November 1977, the United States Army Artillery Group (the USAAG) granted Watkins a security clearance for information classified as "Secret." His application for a position in the Nuclear Surety Personnel Reliability Program (the PRP), however, was initially rejected because his records--specifically, his own admissions--showed that he had homosexual tendencies. After this initial rejection, Watkins' commanding officer in the USAAG, Captain Pastain, requested that Watkins be requalified for the position. Captain Pastain stated, "From daily personal contacts I can attest to the outstanding professional attitude, integrity, and suitability for assignment within the PRP, of SP5 Watkins. In the 6 months he has been assigned to this unit SP5 Watkins has had no problems what-so-ever in dealing with other assigned members. He has, in fact, become one of our most respected and trusted soldiers, both by his superiors and his subordinates." An examining Army physician concluded that Watkins' homosexuality appeared to cause no problem in his work, and the decision to deny Watkins a position in the Nuclear Surety Personnel Reliability Program was reversed.

Watkins worked under a security clearance without incident until he again stated, in an interview on March 15, 1979, that he was homosexual. This prompted yet another Army investigation which, in July 1980, culminated in the revocation of Watkins' security clearance. As the notification of revocation makes clear, the Army based this revocation on Watkins' 1979 admission of homosexuality, on medical records containing Watkins' 1968 affidavit stating that he had engaged in homosexual conduct, and on his history of performing (with the permission of his commanding officer) as a female impersonator in various revues. The Army did not rely on any evidence of homosexual conduct other than Watkins' 1968 affidavit. In October 1979, the Army accepted Watkins' application for another three-year reenlistment.

In 1981 the Army promulgated Army Regulation (AR) 635-200, chpt. 15, which mandated the discharge of all homosexuals regardless of merit. Pursuant to this new discharge regulation, another Army board convened to consider discharging Watkins. Although this board explicitly rejected the evidence before it that Watkins had engaged in homosexual conduct after 1968, the board recommended that Watkins be separated from the service "because he has

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stated that he is a homosexual." Major General Elton, the discharge authority overseeing the board, approved this finding and recommendation and directed that Watkins be discharged. 2

In May 1982, after the Army board voted in favor of Watkins' discharge, but before the discharge actually issued, District Judge Rothstein enjoined the Army from discharging Watkins on the basis of his statements admitting his homosexuality. 541 F.Supp. at 259. 3 The district court reasoned that the discharge proceedings were barred by the Army's regulation against double jeopardy, AR 635-200, p 1-19(b), because they essentially repeated the discharge proceedings of 1975. Id. at 258-59. 4

During oral argument before the district court, counsel for the Army declared that if the Army were enjoined from discharging Watkins, it would deny Watkins reenlistment, pursuant to AR 601-280, p 2-21(c), 5 when his current tour of duty expired in October 1982. 6 This reenlistment regulation, which was promulgated in 1981 along with the discharge regulation AR 635-200, chpt. 15, is simply a clarification of the earlier regulation which had always made homosexuality a nonwaivable disqualification for reenlistment. The district court nonetheless enjoined Watkins' discharge, and the Army fulfilled its promise by rejecting Watkins' reenlistment application "[b]ecause of self admitted homosexuality as well as homosexual acts."

On October 5, 1982, the district court enjoined the Army from refusing to reenlist Watkins because of his admitted homosexuality, holding that the Army was equitably estopped from relying on the nonwaivable disqualification provisions of AR 601-280, p 2-21(c). Watkins v. United States Army, 551 F.Supp. 212, 223 (W.D.Wash.1982). 7 The Army reenlisted Watkins for a six-year term on November 1, 1982, with the proviso that the reenlistment would be voided if the district court's injunction were not upheld on appeal.

While the Army's appeal of the district court injunction was pending, the Army rated Watkins' performance and professionalism. He received 85 out of 85 possible points. His ratings included perfect

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scores for "Earns respect," "Integrity," "Loyalty," "Moral Courage," "Self-discipline," "Military Appearance," "Demonstrates Initiative," "Performs under pressure," "Attains results," "Displays sound judgment," "Communicates effectively," "Develops subordinates," "Demonstrates technical skills," and "Physical fitness." His military evaluators unanimously recommended that he be promoted ahead of his peers. The Army's written evaluation of Watkins' performance and potential stated:

SSG Watkins is without exception, one of the finest Personnel Action Center Supervisors I have encountered. Through his diligent efforts, the Battalion Personnel Action Center achieved a near perfect processing rate for SIPDERS transactions. During this training period, SSG Watkins has been totally reliable and a wealth of knowledge. He requires no supervision, and with his "can do" attitude, always exceeds the requirements and demands placed upon him. I would gladly welcome another opportunity to serve with him, and...

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