Manhattan U.S. Attorney Files Lawsuit Against Cohere Communications, LLC And Its President For Violations Of The Uniformed Services Employment And Reemployment Rights Act
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has filed a lawsuit, on behalf of United States Army Reserve member WILLIAM J. PFUNK (“PFUNK”), against Cohere Communications, LLC (“COHERE”) and its President, Steven T. Francesco (“FRANCESCO”), under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”). The Complaint alleges that COHERE and FRANCESCO willfully violated USERRA by terminating PFUNK’s employment because of his military service obligations and refusing to reemploy him upon his return from military service.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Our brave men and women, who risk their lives for this country, deserve to be treated fairly and according to law when they return from military service to employment. This Office will continue to enforce USERRA to the fullest extent possible so that our service members are not subjected to the kind of unlawful treatment received by Staff Sergeant Pfunk.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court:
PFUNK began working at COHERE, a telecommunications company located in New York, New York, in November 2011. He has been a member of the United States Army Reserves since 2006 and currently holds the rank of staff sergeant. In early April 2012, PFUNK received military orders requiring him to report to a four-day training event on April 9, 2012. PFUNK notified FRANCESCO that—due to his military obligations—he would be absent from work during the week of April 9, 2012. In response, FRANCESCO referred to PFUNK’s military obligations as “elective activities” and terminated PFUNK’s employment effective immediately. PFUNK requested an opportunity to discuss the situation with FRANCESCO upon his return from military service but FRANCESCO declined. Thereafter, a representative of Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, an agency of the Department of Defense, contacted FRANCESCO in an effort to restore PFUNK’s employment, but FRANCESCO refused to reemploy PFUNK. When PFUNK informed FRANCESCO that he believed his rights under USERRA had been violated, FRANCESCO responded: “You are welcome to pursue any course of action you deem appropriate—but if you want a war, I can impact your life more than you can screw with mine.”
USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against service members with respect to employment opportunities based on their past, current, or future military service obligations. Under USERRA, it is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee because the employee must miss work due to military obligations. USERRA also provides that a service member who is absent from work because of military service obligations is entitled to reemployment upon return from military service.
The Complaint seeks, among other things, compensation for PFUNK of his lost wages and benefits and liquidated damages.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Christine S. Poscablo is in charge of the case.