The U.S. Department of Justice recently reached a settlement with All Battery Sales and Service of Everett, Washington, to resolve a lawsuit filed by Curtis Kirk, a U.S. Army reservist. The lawsuit alleged that All Battery failed to properly rehire Mr. Kirk after he finished his tour during Operation Iraqi Freedom and then demoted and ultimately fired him without just cause.
According to the complaint that was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Mr. Kirk was not rehired at the same position, seniority level, status and pay he enjoyed before he left for active duty, all in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). When he returned from service, the complaint said, he was offered fewer working hours and a lower commission and bonus structure with fewer opportunities for promotion.
Under the terms of the settlement, All Battery must pay Mr. Kirk his lost wages and benefits and the company must provide training to its high-level officials and human resources personnel on the rights and obligations of employers and covered employees under USERRA.
USERRA was enacted to provide employment protections for those who served in the military. Under the Act, companies are required to promptly reemploy returning service members to the same positions they held before leaving to fulfill their military obligations. Further, they cannot terminate a returning service member within one year after the date of full and proper reemployment except for just cause.
Not discussed by the court was the potential conflict between the requirements of USERRA and the rights of employers in employment-at-will states like New York.