The Justice Department announced today that it reached an agreement with Forsyth County, N.C., and Sheriff William T. Schatzman of Forsyth County to resolve allegations that they violated the employment rights of North Carolina Army National Guard soldier Michael Russell under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
The Justice Department’s complaint alleged that Sheriff Schatzman and Forsyth County violated USERRA by terminating Russell’s employment with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office without cause and without notice within one year after his reemployment following his return from active military duty. Russell, an Iraq war veteran, had worked as a deputy sheriff and sergeant deputy sheriff with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office since 1989. In February 2010, Russell completed a one-year deployment to Iraq with the North Carolina Army National Guard, and returned to his position with Forsyth County as a sergeant deputy sheriff. On Nov. 29, 2010, less than one year following Russell’s reinstatement to his sergeant deputy sheriff position, Sheriff Schatzman and Forsyth County discharged Russell from his employment without cause. According to the Justice Department’s complaint, Russell’s employment as a deputy sheriff was terminated because of Sheriff Schatzman’s belief that Russell had supported the election campaign of another candidate for Forsyth County Sheriff, Dave Griffith. However, Russell did not support Griffith’s campaign for Forsyth County Sheriff and his termination was therefore without cause.
USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against service members with respect to employment opportunities based on their past, current or future uniformed service obligations. USERRA also provides service members such as Russell special protection from discharge from their civilian employment after returning from uniformed service, such as a deployment lasting more than 180 days. Under USERRA, individuals who have served over 180 days may not be discharged from their civilian jobs within one year of their return from military service, except for cause
Under the terms of the agreement, which was filed as a Consent Decree in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, Schatzman and Forsyth County have agreed to pay $96,000 in lost wages to Russell. Schatzman and Forsyth County have also agreed to provide Russell with an employment reference letter that accurately reflects the content of his performance evaluations prior to his termination.
“USERRA affords military members who leave their civilian careers behind for significant periods of time to serve our country certain protections against unjust terminations,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “It is important that veterans have the opportunity to readjust to civilian life and their careers free from worry about termination without cause.”
The Justice Department initiated the lawsuit after Russell filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, which investigated the matter and determined that the complaint had merit. This case was handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division.
Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department websites www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp and www.servicemembers.gov, as well as the Labor Department website www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.