PORTLAND, ORE. – Lowe’s, a national hardware store chain, has agreed to settle the Justice Department’s claims alleging that the company violated the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) when it terminated the employment of Matthew King, a U.S. Army Guard member and Iraq War veteran, without just cause. The complaint which was filed with a consent decree will resolve the matter if approved by the U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore. The consent decree details the terms of the settlement and includes a lump sum payment of $45,000 to King, for back pay and liquidated damages.
USERRA requires employers to reemploy a servicemember returning from military service in a position he or she would have attained had they not been called away for military service. After reemploying a service member such as Mr. King, an employer also must retain the servicemember in employment for a year unless there is good cause to terminate the employment, altering the “at will” status under which many individuals are typically employed.
Lowe’s hired King in April 2008. In September 2008, King provided Lowe’s a copy of his military orders deploying him to Iraq. King spent approximately a year in Iraq and returned to Oregon in May 2010 after being honorably discharged. Upon his return, King initially sought unemployment benefits on the basis of his federal military discharge, but never actually received any unemployment benefits. He sought reemployment with Lowe’s and was rehired there. Within a couple of months, however, Lowe’s human resource department received notice of King’s initial application for unemployment benefits and summoned him to a meeting. Although King tried to explain to the human resources personnel that he had applied for unemployment before being reemployed by Lowe’s and because he had been discharged by the military, Lowe’s fired King on the spot and made no further attempt to investigate the matter, even though King attempted to provide clarifying information from Oregon’s unemployment office to Lowe’s.
After the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) investigation determined that Lowe’s had wrongfully terminated King without cause, the Department of Labor referred the matter to the Justice Department. The Civil Rights Division coordinated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland to represent Mr. King in his USERRA claims against Lowe’s.
“Our servicemembers need to know we will have their backs at home, including the right to have their job restored with their former employer when they return home after serving our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will vigorously enforce the law to ensure that an individual who has sacrificed so much to serve this country has a fair opportunity to be reemployed as the law provides.”
“Employers in Oregon are on notice that we will enforce the rights of our veterans seeking reemployment as protected under federal law,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Amanda Marshall.
Servicemembers who believe their employment rights have been violated may report these violations to VETS. More information about USERRA and how to contact the local VETS office can be found at www.dol.gov/vets/ . Please visit www.servicemembers.gov to learn about how the Justice Department is protecting the rights of servicemembers.
The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrian Brown and Special Counsel for the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division Jodi Danis.