Military Spouse: An Unprotected Class

By: Army Spouse and Veteran, Lindsay Dickey

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell

I’m not new to the military community. I served in the Army for six years working in the field if Information Technology (IT), and I’ve been married to my active duty soldier for 12 years. Through it all, I’ve managed to move forward in my career after my transition from service member to Army spouse.

Most of you are already (painfully) aware of the challenges associated with PCSing every few years. Even though we knowingly support our service member’s career by moving every few years…it’s still a hard pill to swallow when we’re forced to deal with the employment challenges we encounter. One of those challenges are the employers themselves, and ONE employer picked the wrong MilSpouse to mess with.

What Had Happened Was…

My family had just moved to a new post while I stayed behind to finish my contract at our former duty station. Our household goods had arrived at our new station, my kids were adjusting to their new school, and my husband was back to work learning the in’s and out’s of his new position; all was right with the world, and I was ready to find a new job.

I had begun my job search before my current contract was up, and applied to five promising positions, most of which involved working government contracts. I was really interested in an opening at one company in particular. The position was pretty similar to the contract I was about to complete. I applied, interviewed, and proceeded to constantly refresh my inbox over the next eight weeks. Finally, I received a response back from the company about my application.

My stomach dropped when I opened and read the email.

“Unfortunately the client would not accept you as a candidate because there is no guarantee that you will be here longer than your husband’s training”.

This is just an excerpt of what the email said, but this sentence made the most impact on my demeanor. I was mortified, to say the least. I thought to myself, “what does my husband’s career have to do with mine? Aren’t we separate people”?  Can this company even do this? This has to be illegal. This company had chosen to not even consider me as an employee simply because of my marital status. I immediately started researching to see if there was some law that didn’t give the company the right to do this.

Based on the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, this law “protects federal civilian employees – from discrimination based on marital status.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. This company was clearly not in their legal right to deny me a position because of my marital status. I started thinking again. As a veteran, I am a protected class, meaning that I am legally protected from discrimination. But as a military spouse, I am not a protected class. I have fifteen years of employment experience in the Information Technology field, I have a Master’s Degree in Project Management, a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology, multiple Professional Certifications, and I have a current security clearance. But the fact that my spouse is Active Duty military makes me unqualified? I was confused. I was angry. I am still shocked. It’s 2018 and I’m still being measured by my husband’s career or status? Now what do I do about it?

I decided to “take it up the chain” and contact the officials who were hiring the contracting company I had applied to directly. Guess what? They knew nothing about any of this and said they’d get back to me. I then emailed the contracting company to let them know how disappointed I was and what they’d done was borderline discrimination and illegal. I also told them I contacted their client directly. (BOOM….mic drop).

I’m not unfamiliar with this type of runaround, but I was NOT having it! I refused to be discriminated against just because my husband chose to serve his country or because I chose to marry him.

After sending that email, the contracting company responded (with a QUICKNESS I might add) and asked me to forward them the email I had received. Shortly after I sent it they wrote me back saying “We have investigated your complaint, and we were unable to substantiate that you were discriminated against on any basis.  The contractor made the decision because you would only be in the area for 6 to 9 months.  The contractor’s job posting was for a permanent position”.

I thought “well that’s it. I guess nothing will happen now”. At that point, did I really want to work for a company that wants to sweep this type of behavior under the rug? I felt punished and shunned for being honest about my status as a MilSpouse and had no idea that answering a question as simple as “what brings you to the area” would result in the loss of an opportunity. So I decided to take it to the military community. I went on Facebook live and told this story hoping that someone would understand my frustration and give me some words of wisdom on how to move forward. Apparently, this is a hot-button issue in the military spouse community. In 24 hours, the video had 3500 views and I began receiving “me too” messages and words of encouragement.

“I watched your video and from the get go was like she’s been through it too. Thank God for you not taking it lying down. This is a real problem!”

“Wow you basically gave me a sigh of relief that someone besides myself has dealt with this. It’s so disheartening. I want to thank you for speaking up.”

“Military spouses aren’t merely a person married to a military member. Usually they are some of the most educated and driven people. I hate the thought of my wife being turned down for a job simply because she is married to me….you have my support.”

Then, something MAGICAL happened: JUSTICE.

The client I had complained to about the contracting company wrote to inform me that they would be filing a FORMAL COMPLAINT against the contractor for the rejection letter they sent me:

We base our needs off of documented requirements, and the company decides to fill positions with personnel based on the requirements set by our office. THANK YOU for bringing this to our attention!”

Vindicated! But it didn’t stop there. I decided to interview with a DIFFERENT company, I got that job and started a few days later. This company didn’t even ask about my family situation and only cared about my ability to perform the duties for the position I interviewed for. I guess not all companies are bad apples.

The best thing we can do as a community is to speak up when something like this happens. I hope my story resonates within the military community so we can bring awareness to the issue, to spark conversations, and teach others that the actions of some companies are not legal. Being denied employment as a military spouse is something that companies could continue to get away with, but we can all be advocates for each other by sharing our experiences. We can create positive change through our stories.

Have YOU ever been discriminated against for your military spouse status? What did you do? What WOULD you do? Tell us your story!

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