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ALEXANDRIA, VA. — An FBI official on Wednesday told a judge that a Virginia man who won a discrimination lawsuit against the bureau can’t be reinstated as a special agent until 2015 because of budget cuts.
Justin Slaby, 30, of Stafford, sued the FBI after he lost his left hand in a training accident in Georgia in 2004. He argued the FBI wrongly kicked him out of its academy in 2011 because of his prosthetic hand, even though he was otherwise qualified.
The FBI contended Slaby, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was unqualified in part because he could not accurately fire a gun with his left hand, his non-dominant hand. But during trial, FBI officials acknowledged no other agents are required to demonstrate that they can accurately fire a gun with their non-dominant hand.
A jury agreed with Slaby and last week awarded him $75,000 for mental anguish. Slaby is also expected to get anywhere from $66,000 to $78,000 in back pay — the difference between what his pay would have been as a special agent and his current FBI support job for its Hostage Rescue Team.
A judge must decide whether Slaby will be reinstated as a special agent.
At a hearing Wednesday, government attorneys said they are still considering whether to appeal the jury’s decision. If the government decides not to appeal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mikolashek said the FBI is not theoretically opposed to reinstating Slaby as a special agent to complete his training at Quantico.
But he said the budget cuts commonly referred to as sequestration have caused the FBI to suspend all hiring and shut down the training academy for new agents.
FBI human resources supervisor James Turgal testified if sequestration remains in place, it is unlikely the FBI will be training any new special agents until 2015. He told the judge that it would be possible, but extremely difficult, to create the proper kind of training environment for Slaby.
Turgal said if the judge ordered him to immediately allow Slaby to complete his training, the FBI may opt to bring in a whole class of recruits to re-create the group learning environment the bureau considers essential. And doing so in a time of sharp budget cuts is a problem.
“It’s not fair to the current workforce to bring new employees on, when we’re furloughing existing ones,” Turgal said.
Slaby’s lawyers want him reinstated immediately and have suggested a time frame that requires the FBI to give Slaby the 13 weeks of remaining training he needs by March 31. The lawyers argued that while the training academy is closed, similar types of instruction are still being offered at Quantico that could be adapted to accommodate Slaby.
Slaby “should not bear the burden of their discrimination,” said one of his lawyers, John Ates. “He should be reinstated immediately.”
Slaby said after the hearing he is eager to get his career back on track.
“Three years past eager,” Slaby said. “But we’re being patient and going through the process.”
Slaby, a Wisconsin native, was initially sponsored for the academy by the bureau’s Milwaukee office. Before the trial began, a magistrate judge admonished the woman who had been in charge of the Milwaukee FBI office, Teresa Carlson, for her conduct in the case. An FBI firearms instructor said Carlson made comments to him that he perceived as pressure to testify against Slaby at trial.
Carlson has since been transferred from her post in Milwaukee. She refused to testify at Slaby’s trial, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.