Challenging Policy to Exclude Women from Combat

Munger, Tolles & Olson, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Northern California are representing four servicewomen in challenging the Defense Department’s combat exclusion policy barring women from serving in combat positions. The suit, Hegar v. Panetta, was filed Nov. 27, 2012 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

On Jan. 24, 2013, a week before the government’s answer was due, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced revocation of the combat exclusion policy. The suit is pending, as the plaintiffs monitor implementation throughout the armed forces.

One plaintiff, California Air National Guard Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, earned a Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross with a Valor Device for showing "outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty" while exchanging fire with the enemy during a medevac mission in Afghanistan in 2009. Despite 15 pieces of shrapnel in her right arm and leg, she returned to retrieve three wounded soldiers on the ground, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"My gender has never been a factor in accomplishing my unit's mission," said Hegar, who is moving into a reservist liaison position because of what she said were gender-based career limitations. "We were Americans with the sole purpose of getting everybody home alive."

Women make up more than 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel, yet the rule categorically excludes them from more than 238,000 positions. In addition, despite the fact that servicewomen already effectively serve in direct combat, they often do so without the level of training provided to their male counterparts or the recognition that would enable them to advance in rank.

Munger Tolles attorneys working on the case include  Rosemarie T. Ring, Steven M. Perry and Marja-Liisa Overbeck.