WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with the city of Highland Park, Mich., to resolve allegations that the city willfully violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) by failing to properly reemploy firefighter and U.S. Army reservist Paul A. Baetz in July 2009 when he returned from military service in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Justice Department’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, alleges that while Mr. Baetz was overseas in military service, the city of Highland Park promoted three auxiliary firefighters with less seniority than Mr. Baetz to full-time firefighter and refused to properly re-employ Mr. Baetz as a full-time firefighter upon his return. Subject to certain conditions, USERRA requires employers to promptly re-employ returning service members in the positions they would have held had their employment not been interrupted by military service, or in a position of like seniority, status and pay.
Under the terms of the settlement, embodied in a consent decree that was approved by the district court, the city of Highland Park must pay Baetz approximately $25,000 in compensation for lost wages, back pension contributions and other damages. Although the city promoted Mr. Baetz after the Justice Department opened its investigation, the consent decree also requires that the city retroactively adjust the date of Mr. Baetz’s promotion back to the time he should have received it in 2009.
“Uniformed service benefits our nation and should not require a service member to lose his or her chance for civilian career advancement,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will take the steps necessary to ensure that all employers meet their obligations under USERRA.”
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to enforcing the rights of our soldiers and veterans,” said Barbara L. McQuade, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “We owe it to our service members to protect their civilian career opportunities while they are sacrificing so much to serve our country.”
The case was litigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan K. DeClercq in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, in collaboration with Jodi Danis, Special Counsel, in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. The case stems from a referral from the U.S. Labor Department following an investigation by its Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices have given a high priority to the enforcement of service members’ rights under USERRA. Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department’s websites at www.justice.gov/crt/emp and www.servicemembers.gov, as well as on the Labor Department’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.