Do You Want to Be the Company Sued By a Medal of Honor Winner?

How would you like to be the company known for getting sued by the only living Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Better yet, how would you like to be the human resources executive who had to handle something like this after this real-life hero, who you had in your employ, quits and decides to sue you for slandering his character?

The Wall Street Journal has an amazing story about how former U.S. Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama last September for his actions in saving 36 lives during a battle with the Taliban in 2009, has sued giant British-based defense contractor BAE, his employer after leaving the service.

Getting sued by a highly decorated war hero

And why did Sgt. Meyer sue? It’s flows from BAE’s decision to sell high-tech sniper rifle scopes to the Pakistani military. Meyer objected to the sale, “given Islamabad’s… unambiguous relationship with the terrorists and militants based in Pakistan,” according to Wired magazine‘s account. “Then he quit. Suddenly, Meyer’s former bosses at BAE started calling the war hero “mentally unstable” and a drunk.”

Here the gist of The Journal’s story:

Two months ago, Dakota Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama for his service in Afghanistan, the military’s most prestigious award. On Monday, Sgt. Meyer alleged that a defense contractor has called him mentally unstable and a problem drinker, ruining his chances for a job in the defense industry.

In legal papers filed Monday, the Marine claims that BAE Systems, where he worked earlier this year, retaliated against him after he raised objections about BAE’s alleged decision to sell high-tech sniper scopes to the Pakistani military. He says his supervisor at BAE effectively blocked his hiring by another defense contractor by making the claims about drinking and his mental condition.”

Before you read any more, understand that no company in their right mind should ever want a living Medal of Honor winner — and there are not very many of those out there — to feel that they have to sue you for disparaging their reputation. What are they doing over at BAE, and does anyone anywhere think that this reflects well on them or their company?

A lose-lose situation for BAE

In the court of public opinion, this is a lose-lose situation for the geniuses over at BAE. My guess is that it will be the more of the same, only with a big dollar award going to Sgt. Meyer, when it gets adjudicated in the American legal system as well.

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As Wired magazine put it in their account of this incident:

Spokespeople (for BAE) declined to comment on the lawsuit to the Journal. But the company, which makes everything from anti-ship microwave guns to stealthy killer drones to freaky invisibility cloaks for tanks, risks calling a war hero an exaggerator or a liar in defending itself. Good luck with that one.”

Yes, good luck with that one indeed. And I wonder: did BAE even talk to their senior HR staff about the downside to publicly disparaging a war hero who used to be in their employ?

Say what you will about HR, but I don’t know that any thinking and competent human resources pro anywhere would EVER counsel their company to do something as flat-out stupid as that.

For more on this, read The Wall Street Journal story here, or the Wired magazine version here.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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