FILE: Soldiers prepare to ruck to bring awareness to the Wounded Warrior Project. (Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin/U.S. Army).

A woman claims in a lawsuit that the Wounded Warrior Project wrongfully fired her due to a disability caused by cancer and the medical care required by her cancer treatments.

The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit group and veterans service organization that offers several services to veterans of the post-Sept. 11, 2001 wars as well as military families.

Christy Montoto worked for the Wounded Warrior Project from August 2021 to January 2024, and her job was to represent veterans and service members in their disabilities claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the lawsuit obtained by Task & Purpose.

Montoto filed three Equal Employment Opportunity complaints between November 2023 and January 2024 arguing that the Wounded Warrior Project discriminated against her based on her disability, age, and sex and that the group retaliated against her for asserting her rights. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces laws against workplace discrimination, issued Montoto a right-to-sue letter in February.

“The North Carolina Department of Commerce Division of Employment Security determined that Plaintiff’s employment discharge was not for misconduct connected to her work,” the lawsuit says.

Kevin J. Kaputsa, Montoto’s attorney, said that the Wounded Warrior Project wrongfully fired his client after she told the group’s leadership that her cancer had returned after a year of treatment, even though she is protected from such reprisal by the American with Disabilities Act.

“That’s what the evidence speaks to,” Kaputsa told Task & Purpose. “Clearly, the day she finds out it’s coming back – or could be coming back – they institute this 60-day retroactive investigation into her attendance when it had not been an issue before – not made an issue before.”

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Montoto continues to undergo medical treatment, said Kaputsa, who declined to provide any specific information about her condition.

Kaputsa also said all the incidents cited in the lawsuit played a role in the Wounded Warrior Project’s leaders’ decision to fire Montoto.

“I don’t think you can just pick out one and say, ‘That was the only thing;’ because if that were the case, it would just be a one-paragraph complaint,” Kaputsa said. “There’s all of these other paragraphs, all the way up to 59, that lead up to her termination. So, all of them are sort of like little droplets of water that at the end of the day, when you put it all together, it amounts to basically discrimination.”

Wounded Warrior Project spokesman Jon Blauvelt told Task & Purpose that it takes all claims seriously but does not comment on personnel issues.

“What we will say is that we treat all teammates, and the wounded veterans and families we serve, with the utmost respect and dignity,” Blauvelt said.

Montoto first told her regional manager in November 2021 that she had discovered a lump on her breast and she was diagnosed with cancer the following month, according to her lawsuit. Her diagnosis was reported to the Wounded Warrior Project’s leadership, and she underwent a year of treatment and surgery. Since she was immunocompromised, the Wounded Warrior Project allowed her to work remotely on a temporary basis.

During Fiscal Years 2021 and 2022, Montoto received excellent employee evaluations, but when she told her regional manager on Sept. 26, 2023 that her cancer had likely returned, the Wounded Warrior Project began a 60-day investigation into her attendance, the lawsuit says.

Although Montoto was given permission to leave work to have an ultrasound on Sept. 26, 2023, she was later reprimanded for being absent that day as well as on Aug. 31, 2023, when her office had been closed due to a hurricane, according to the lawsuit.

On Oct. 26, 2023, Montoto received a written reprimand for violating the Wounded Warrior Project’s hybrid work and corporate credit card policies, the lawsuit says. Her managers also claimed that she had been counseled at a June 28 meeting with Wounded Warrior Project leadership about her not being in the office, but that meeting never happened, according to the lawsuit. In fact, Montoto was moving that day, and her managers knew she could not be in the office.

While Montoto had mistakenly used a corporate credit card for a personal charge, she repaid the expense, and a male colleague who made a similar mistake was not reprimanded, the lawsuit says.

“This written reprimand by WWP evidenced that it refused to provide reasonable accommodations for the Plaintiff’s physical disability, and instead was a concocted pretext used for her eventual termination,” the lawsuit says.

Over the course of the next several months, Monoto was reprimanded twice more for allegedly being late to finish tasks that her managers told her were optional, not required, according to the lawsuit. She also received a poor performance evaluation even though she had a 100% customer satisfaction and an 97% quality assurance score.

On Jan. 11, Montoto sent an email questioning the Wounded Warrior Project’s data entry requirements, the lawsuit says.

“The Plaintiff pointed out the WWP was overstating the financial number of benefits WWP obtained for Veterans,” the lawsuit says. “The information WWP disseminated to Congress, donors, WWP Board of Directors, the public, Veterans, and service members was false.”

The lawsuit does not elaborate on how the Wounded Warrior Project allegedly overstated the benefits.

Kaputsa said more information about this allegation will come out during the lawsuit. He also said that Montoto’s email about the Wounded Warrior Project inflating the benefits going to veterans “ruffled their feathers to a great extent,” and ultimately became one of the reasons why she was fired.

“They looked back at it and said, ‘Well, let’s use attendance as a reason to get rid of her now because she’s a troublemaker,’” Kaputsa said.  

Blauvelt disputed Montoto’s allegation that the Wounded Warrior Project had overstated the number of benefits obtained for veterans.

“That information is incorrect,” Blauvelt said. “We stand by our retired CEO Mike Linnington’s written testimony to Congress in March in which he stated Wounded Warrior Project secured over $175 million in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation benefits for warriors from October 1, 2022, to September 30, 2023, a conservative estimate. Our Benefits team helps warriors and their families receive the benefits they’ve earned in a manner that honors their service. We’re proud of their work and stand by the numbers we reported.”

On Jan. 17, Montoto was called into a meeting with the Wounded Warrior Project’s vice president even though she was on sick leave, according to the lawsuit. She received another reprimand for allegedly being late on tasks and discussed her equal employment opportunity complaints.

 “The Plaintiff advised that as the result of her treatment she needs double knee replacements as well as a host of other medical treatments,” the lawsuit says. “Fort-five (45) minutes later the Plaintiff was terminated for gross insubordination.”

Kaputsa said he believes that the prospect of covering additional medical treatment for Montoto was the final straw for the Wounded Warrior Project.

“If you go back to the 60-day retroactive [investigation], it all kind of is consistent and ties together,” Kaputsa said. “She says the cancer comes back: OK, 60-day retroactive investigation. ‘I need a knee replacement:’ OK, you’re fired. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out the connection there that can be argued.”

Founded in 2003, the Wounded Warrior Project was long seen as the gold standard for veterans service organizations that help those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. But in 2015 The Daily Beast reported that the group had bullied other veterans charities by suing other organizations that used the phrase “wounded warrior” or had similar logos. The following year, CBS and the New York Times reported allegations that the Wounded Warrior Project was lavishly spending money on itself instead of spending the funds it had raised on veterans.

Ultimately, the group’s two top leaders were fired, and the Wounded Warrior Project has managed to regain much of its former prestige since.

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