WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today that it has resolved claims made by Stephen Ralston against the South Bend, Ind., Public Transportation Corporation (TRANSPO) under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
Subject to certain conditions, USERRA requires employers to promptly reemploy returning service members to the position they would have held had their employment not been interrupted by military service, or in a position of like seniority, status and pay. USERRA also prohibits an employer from denying, among other things, retention in employment to a member of the uniformed services on the basis of that membership, performance of service or service obligation.
The complaint in this case, which was filed along with a proposed consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, alleges that TRANSPO violated various sections of USERRA by, among other things, failing to properly reemploy Mr. Ralston after his military obligations ended, and discriminating against Mr. Ralston because of his military obligations. Mr. Ralston, who was employed by TRANSPO in January 2008, was activated to full-time military duty and deployed to Iraq. After Mr. Ralston’s military obligations concluded in November 2009, he promptly applied for reinstatement with TRANSPO. On his first day back at TRANSPO in December 2009, Mr. Ralston was informed by TRANSPO’s assistant general manager that Ralston’s position would cease to exist after Dec. 31, 2009. On Dec. 31, 2009, TRANSPO delivered a letter to Mr. Ralston stating that he was being discharged that day. No other TRANSPO employee was discharged that day. Under the terms of the consent decree, TRANSPO will pay Mr. Ralston $45,000 in back pay.
“Our country values its military reservists and the sacrifices they make. No service member should be disadvantaged because he or she heeded the call to duty,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is fully committed to protecting the employment rights of persons who serve in the armed services.”
“Our commitment to returning service members is complete and unwavering,” said Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training. “Members of our Armed Forces volunteered for the duty of protecting our nation, our values, our interests and our way of life. It is our duty to support them when they need assistance after returning home.”
The Justice Department’s lawsuit was filed after the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service of the Department of Labor referred the complaints filed by Mr. Ralston to the Justice Department upon completion of its investigation and unresolved settlement efforts. USERRA provides that the Department of Justice may appear on behalf of, and act as attorney for, persons whose complaints are referred to Department of Justice by the Department of Labor.
This case was handled jointly by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana and the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division. Wayne Ault, Assistant U.S. Attorney, and Hector Ruiz, Senior Trial Attorney, served as counsel for plaintiff. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has 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.usdoj.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.