“To accommodate the policy, the women were forced to travel to and from the base on dangerous roads, and they were often taken out of crucial missions, sometimes for a week’s time,” says the suit.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of the military lifting a rule that prohibited women from living with combat units, and opening roughly 14,500 positions to women that were male only.
Panetta also directed the services to examine ways to open more such roles to women.
More than 16,000 women are currently deployed in Afghanistan, according to Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.
Pentagon spokesman George Little would not comment on the lawsuit, but defended Panetta’s record on women in combat as “very strong,” according to Stars and Stripes.
Little said the rules earlier this week to open combat roles to women were “merely the beginning, and not the end of the process,” the report added.
In addition to Hegar, the plaintiffs include Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, Marine Capt. Alexandra Zoe Bedell, a reservist, and Marine 1st Lt. Colleen Farrell, an active-duty officer.
The women are joined in their suit by the Service Women’s Action Network, and are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Northern California and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.