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Friday, September 6, 2013
Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Jerome County Idaho Sheriff’s Office to Resolve the Employment Rights of Army National Guard Member

The Depatment of Justice and U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson for the District of Idaho announced today that they reached an agreement with the Jerome County, Id., Sheriff’s Office to resolve the allegations that Jerome County violated the employment rights of Idaho Army National Guard Member Mervin Jones while he was recuperating from a knee injury that he sustained while performing military service. 

The department’s complaint alleged that the Jerome County Sheriff’s Office violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by failing to properly reemploy and subsequently terminating Jones following his service with the Idaho Army National Guard.  The complaint states that Jones began working for the Jerome County Sheriff’s Office as a correctional deputy in 2002.  By 2007, he had been promoted through the ranks to corporal.  During his employment with the sheriff’s office, Jones suffered a knee injury while deployed to Iraq in 2004, which Jones later aggravated in 2008 during a weekend training event with his guard unit.  The complaint alleges that in 2009, while Jones was still recuperating from multiple knee surgeries, the sheriff’s office forced  him to complete Family Medical Leave Act paperwork even though his leave was protected under USERRA, denied him light duty work to accommodate his physical limitations caused by the knee injury, attempted to subject him to an unlawful “fitness for duty” evaluation and physical fitness test before allowing him to return to work, and terminated his employment during the period of time permitted by USERRA to recover from an injury incurred in the line of duty. The settlement reached is a compromise to avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation.

Subject to certain limitations, USERRA requires that service members who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the military be reemployed promptly by their civilian employers in the positions they would have held if their employment had not been interrupted by military service or in positions of comparable seniority, pay and status.  In addition, USERRA requires employers to accommodate service members who are injured in the line of duty, and allows service members who are recuperating from such an injury up to two years to obtain reemployment without facing termination by their civilian employers. 
 
Under the terms of the agreement, which was filed as a consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, Jerome County has agreed to pay $150,000, which includes $75,000 in lost wages, to Jones.  Jerome County has also agreed to provide a letter that requests Jones’ return to the state employment eligibility register maintained by the Idaho Division of Human Resources.

“This settlement demonstrates our commitment to vigorous enforcement of the laws that protect the employment rights of our servicemembers,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The department is pleased that we were able to work cooperatively with Jerome County to resolve this matter without the need for contested litigation.”
“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 U.S. Attorney Olson.  “It is important that all veterans and especially those veterans who are injured serving their country, have the opportunity to return to civilian life and their careers free from worry about termination without cause.”

The case stems from a referral by the United States 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 District of Idaho.

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.

 

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