The Justice Department announced a settlement today with the Warren County, N.C. Board of Education that resolves a lawsuit the department filed on behalf of Army Reserve soldier Dwayne Coffer under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
The settlement, which was filed as a consent agreement in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, resolves allegations that the Warren County Board of Education willfully violated USERRA by not renewing Coffer’s employment contract in 2008 because of his military service obligations. Coffer, a Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army Reserve, worked at Warren County High School as an assistant principal. During his employment with the county, Coffer took periodic leave from work to fulfill his military obligations, including service in Kuwait and Afghanistan from February 2004 to February 2005. According to the department’s complaint, the board did not renew Coffer’s contract as an assistant principal in 2008 because staff members expressed frustration at accommodating his military service during the school year.
USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against servicemembers with respect to employment opportunities based on their past, current or future uniformed service obligations. USERRA also requires employers to promptly reemploy service members following their return from military leave. Under the terms of the consent agreement, the Warren County Board of Education will, among other stipulations, reemploy Coffer under a two-year contract as a Lead Teacher/Site Supervisor at the salary he would have received had he remained continuously employed by the county, pay back-pay to Coffer in the amount of $10,000 and contribute lost retirement payments to Coffer’s retirement account in the amount of $13,702.63.
“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 Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “It is important that veterans have the opportunity to serve their country free from worry about termination without cause.”
“I am pleased we were able to resolve this matter,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker. “Improper job terminations over military service cannot be tolerated.”
The department initiated the lawsuit after Coffer filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, which investigated the matter and determined that the complaint had merit. This case was handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the 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 .