WASHINGTON - The Department of Justice today filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dave Axtell, a U.S. Air Force reservist, against James J. Williams Bulk Service Transport Inc. (JJW), its parent company Trans-System Inc., and another Trans-System subsidiary, System TWT Transportation Inc. The lawsuit alleges that the companies violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) by failing to promptly and properly reemploy Axtell in April 2009, after he returned from military service in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The complaint also alleges that the defendants unlawfully terminated Axtell’s employment without cause shortly after he was reemployed.
Subject to certain conditions, USERRA requires employers to promptly reemploy returning service members in the positions they would have held had their employment been not interrupted by military service or in a position of like seniority, status and pay. In addition, any individual with Axtell’s length of absence for military service who is reemployed cannot be terminated, except for just cause, within one year after the date of reemployment.
JJW is a trucking company that specializes in hauling hazardous materials. According to the department’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Tacoma, the defendant companies violated USERRA by not promptly or properly reemploying Axtell in his previous pre-service position as a driver supervisor, or in a position with comparable seniority status and pay. The defendants waited three months to reemploy Axtell, and thereafter employed him in an unsalaried, lower status position requiring longer hours. Defendants terminated Axtell’s employment without cause shortly after reemploying him, also in violation of USERRA.
In its lawsuit, the Justice Department seeks the lost wages and benefits that Axtell would have received if he had been properly reemployed in his pre-service position as a driver supervisor, or a comparable position, as well as damages resulting from the unlawful termination of his employment. The complaint also seeks double damages because the defendants’ actions constituted a willful violation of USERRA. The case will be litigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office based in Seattle.
“The men and women who wear our nation’s uniform deserve the comfort of knowing that they do not have to sacrifice their civilian employment in order to serve our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to aggressive enforcement of USERRA to protect the rights of those who, through their bravery and sacrifice, secure the rights of all Americans.”
“Just as our dedicated men and women of the military protect our freedoms overseas, we must protect their interests here at home,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny A. Durkan. “These soldiers have made many sacrifices, and the loss of a career or appropriate pay when they return home, cannot be allowed.”
The Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service investigated and attempted to resolve Axtell’s USERRA complaint before referring it to the Justice Department for litigation. “Our two agencies work closely together to ensure that our service members are treated right when they return from service” said Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training.
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.