The Justice Department announced today the filing of a complaint alleging that the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County and Cook County willfully violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by failing to allow U.S. Army Reserve Member Latoya Hayward to lawfully contribute to her pension for the time she was serving in the armed forces.
According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, in 2008 Hayward began working for John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, which is owned and operated by Cook County. During her employment with Stroger Hospital, Hayward was mobilized for a two year tour of duty with the Army Reserves starting on July 27, 2009. During Hayward’s period of active service, she served as a nurse case manager at Walter Reed Hospital as part of the Warrior Transition Brigade. As alleged in the complaint, upon Hayward’s return from duty, the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County notified her not only that she was ineligible to make payments into her pension for the 90-day grace period following her active military service, but also that her employee contributions for the two-year period of her active military service would be subject to a 3 percent interest fee. Among the protections provided by USERRA are pension-related provisions that treat a servicemember who is called to active duty as if she has had no break in service for purpose of the administration of pension benefits. According to Hayward’s complaint, both of the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County’s requirements for her participation in her employer’s pension plan violated USERRA’s pension protection provisions.
“Congress enacted USERRA to protect our men and women in uniform from experiencing this kind of injustice,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing federal laws that protect the employment rights of our service members.”
“Members of the Army Reserves sacrifice time away from their jobs to serve their country,” said Gary S. Shapiro, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “USERRA ensures that they are not discriminated against after they have returned and that their employment rights are protected.”
The case stems from a referral by the U.S. Department of Labor following an investigation by the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. This case is being handled by the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, who work collaboratively with the Department of Labor to protect the jobs and benefits of National Guard and Reserve service members upon their return to civilian life.
Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department website: www.servicemembers.gov and www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp , as well as on the Labor Department’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm .