WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice today filed a lawsuit against SmallTownPapers, Inc. (STP) of Seattle, alleging that STP violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by terminating Frank Bonnin, an Air Force reservist, because of his military obligation to attend active duty training.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges that STP terminated Bonnin from his position as Director of Publisher Relations after Bonnin informed his manager that he had received orders to attend five weeks of active duty training. The complaint also alleges that STP’s violation of USERRA was willful because although STP’s officials were aware of the law’s protection against discrimination based on military service, they still terminated Bonnin. The complaint seeks compensatory and liquidated damages on behalf of the victim.
USERRA prohibits employment discrimination against individuals because of their service in the uniformed services. If an employer willfully violates USERRA, a court may award a service member liquidated damages in an amount equal to lost wages and benefits.
"Having a trained reserve force is of tremendous importance to our nation's security," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "Employers must do their part to ensure that our service members’ jobs are protected while they train to defend our nation at home and abroad."
"The Department of Justice has a strong commitment to protecting the employment rights of anyone discriminated against because of their military service," said Jeffrey Sullivan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, whose office is assisting the Civil Rights Division in the case.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit was filed after the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service of the Department of Labor referred Bonnin’s complaint upon completion of its own investigation and unsuccessful settlement efforts. USERRA provides that the Department of Justice may appear on behalf of, and act as attorney for, persons whose complaints are referred to the Department of Justice by the Department of Labor.
The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice assumed responsibility for the enforcement of USERRA with respect to state and local governments and private employers in September 2004. Since that time, the Division has filed 25 USERRA suits on behalf of service members, including its first-ever federal class action lawsuit under USERRA, Woodall v. American Airlines.
Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Department of Justice Web site at http://www.servicemembers.gov, and on the Department of Labor Web site at http://www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.