The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker announced today the filing of a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against the Warren County, N.C., Board of Education for violating the employment rights of Army Reserve Sergeant Dwayne Coffer under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
The department’s complaint alleges that the Warren County Board of Education willfully violated USERRA by not renewing Coffer’s employment because of his military service obligations. Coffer is a Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army Reserve. He has served in the Army Reserve for over 20 years. In addition to other periods of service, he served in Kuwait and Afghanistan from February 2004 to February 2005. Coffer worked at Warren County High School as an Assistant Principal while he was in the Army Reserve. During his employment with the Warren County Board of Education, Coffer took periodic leave from work to fulfill his military obligations with the Army Reserve. According to the Justice Department’s complaint, on April 25, 2008, the board voted not to renew Coffer’s contract as an assistant principal after staff members expressed frustration at his performing military service during the school year.
Coffer initially filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, which investigated the matter, determined that the complaint had merit, and referred the matter to the Justice Department. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina subsequently decided to represent Coffer in this matter and filed this lawsuit on his behalf.
USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against Army Reserve soldiers, such as Coffer, with respect to employment opportunities based on their past, current or future uniformed service obligations. Under USERRA, it is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee because he has to miss work due to military obligations.
Among other things, the suit seeks compensation for Coffer’s lost wages and benefits, liquidated damages and reinstatement of Coffer’s employment with the Board of Education.
“Our dedicated military men and women should not have to choose between serving their county as reservists and keeping their civilian jobs,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to USERRA enforcement and will take all appropriate and necessary action to vigorously protect reservists from unlawful discrimination in the workplace.”
“In serving our country, members of the Army Reserve sacrifice time away from their families and from their jobs. They are willing to risk their lives to protect the freedoms we hold dear,” said U.S. Attorney Walker. “We will use all of USERRA’s tools to protect the employment rights of those in uniform.”
This case is being handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
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 .