Dr. William Cooper has filed a federal lawsuit claiming he returned home from four months of active duty deployment in the Middle East to find his medical job at WellStar Health System in Georgia had been given to someone else.
The lawsuit proclaims: “This is an action to vindicate the rights of an American soldier.”
“It’s about veterans. It’s about the military. It’s about people being treated the right way,” Dr. Cooper told WSB-TV2.
Upon his return to the hospital, Cooper, the medical director of Cardiovascular surgery for WellStar, claims he was offered a less prestigious post with lower pay at another hospital.
“If this can happen to him, this can happen to others. It’s not patriotic and that’s why this lawsuit is here,” his lawyer, Richard Valladares, told WSB-TV2.
In 2017, Cooper was voted by his peers as one of the top 65 doctors at WellStar in a feature article in Atlanta magazine, according to the Marietta Daily Journal. Marietta-based WellStar Health System is the largest health system in Georgia, with roughly 3,000 physicians and advanced practice professionals on its medical staff, according to the newspaper.
Cooper said he filed the lawsuit in part to protect other service members. “What about the PFC, E3 or E4 or the sergeant?” he said. “This is about every veteran and every soldier out there who fights in this country, everyday.”
In response to the lawsuit, WellStar Health System issued a statement: “We have a full appreciation for Dr. Cooper’s service to our country. However transitioning him out of this role had nothing to do with his military service. The allegations in the lawsuit are false and WellStar Health System will vigorously defend against these baseless claims in court.”
The Hospital statement goes on to say WellStar actively recruits service members and offers a military leave policy where military personnel receive pay and benefits.
Valladares countered that the law protects Reservists from losing their jobs and that Cooper received an indication while deployed that his job might not be there when he got back. “It says they are protected from discrimination when they return to their employment as a result of that active duty,” he said.
His first day back to work, Valladares said, Cooper was “grilled on his military commitments and asked to step down. That is not legal.”
Cooper said he’s holding it together with his faith and family. “Despite everything, I would do this all over again. I would not change a thing about the decisions I made to be in the Army Reserves if they call me.”