COLUMBIA, S.C. - The first woman to command the Army’s drill sergeant training took legal action Monday to reclaim her job, alleging she was improperly suspended last year because of sexism and racism and demanding that two of her superiors be investigated for abuse of their authority.
Command Sergeant Major Teresa King still does not know what exactly her superiors were investigating when they suspended her Nov. 29, according to her attorney, James Smith. He said the Army has declined to say specifically what it was looking into, beyond a general statement that it involved her conduct.
Smith filed a legal complaint Monday with the Army against two of King’s superiors, and wants to have King reinstated. Smith is also asking South Carolina’s two senior members of Congress, Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative James Clyburn, for a congressional inquiry into King’s treatment.
Army officials said they wanted to study the complaint before commenting.
King, who is black, made headlines in 2009 when the Army named her as the first woman to head the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson.
Smith has statements from King’s deputy at the school and an Army colonel who worked with King contending she is a victim of sexism and racism on the part of soldiers who resented her promotion and the national attention it drew.
“It’s abundantly clear that there was nothing to warrant her removal. The Army should reinstate her and restore her honorable name,’’ Smith said in an interview.
The attorney said King, 50, has declined to comment on the actions, saying the complaint stands on its own. But in a rebuttal to the Army, King wrote her superiors, “My instincts tell me that if I were a male, that none of this would have happened.’’
Smith said he believes the Army is delaying its investigation in order to force King to take retirement when she becomes eligible later this year.
Smith, who has handled military legal cases as an officer in the National Guard, said Army regulations require that investigations must be handled “expeditiously’’ and the one against King has gone on far too long.
After she took charge of the training program, reporters and TV crews descended on King, making much of her background as the daughter of a North Carolina sharecropper who dispensed stern discipline to his 12 children. She was featured on national TV, on newspaper front pages, and in women’s magazines.
Smith said envy and sexism were at the heart of the investigations which began against her after she was named commandant at the school. He produced Army evaluations that showed that up until then, King had excellent ratings throughout her career.
Smith said the complaint is being filed against Major General Richard Longo, who ordered King suspended, and his top enlisted aide, Command Sergeant Major John Calpena.