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Women's equality has come a long way in the United States, but military women still cannot be assigned to combat units. That could change if a new lawsuit against Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is successful, Stars and Stripes reports.
The suit was filed by four women who served in Afghanistan or Iraq. They're joined by the Service Women's Action Network and are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union as well as a private law firm.
All of the women have engaged in combat while overseas, and two are Purple Heart recipients. They argue that the military's policies do a disservice to women who serve.
Currently, women are not permitted to serve in roles that focus solely on combat, although they are now allowed to live with combat units and engage in combat, reports Reuters.
Women take roles as medics, intelligence officers, and other non-combat roles in combat units overseas and many engage in fighting when their units are attacked. But when they return home, their actions often go unrecognized and unrewarded when the time comes for promotions.
The women involved in the suit include an Air National Guard helicopter pilot, a Marine Corps captain and an Army staff sergeant. They claim to have been excluded from certain leadership roles and promotions because of the military's policies.
Combat roles are considered in promotion decisions, which puts women at an unfair disadvantage, according to the complaint.
In general, employment discrimination based on gender is illegal. But physical requirements for a job are permitted, and often those inadvertently exclude women.
In this case, the military's policy isn't based on physical requirements, the lawsuit suggests. Instead, it expressly discriminates against women even if they can meet the physical rigors of positions on the front line.
Even before the lawsuit, Panetta has shown that he is open to policies that are more inclusive to women, according to Stars and Stripes. Women currently comprise about 14 percent of active-duty service members.