Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division today issued the following statement on Memorial Day:
Each year on the last Monday in May, we honor those servicemmebers who sacrificed their lives for our country, protecting our liberty and way of life. On this day, many of us will attend ceremonies honoring these fallen heroes. As we remember those whom we have lost, Memorial Day ceremonies also give us the opportunity to express our gratitude to servicemembers who currently safeguard our nation. Here at the Civil Rights Division (“Division”), home of the Department of Justice’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative (SVI), we work to ensure that servicemembers, veterans, and their families receive the full benefit of the laws designed to protect them.
The SVI facilitates and coordinates with Department of Justice (Department) components, the U.S. Military, and other federal agencies to build a comprehensive legal support and protection network focused on serving servicemembers, veterans, and their families. In addition to direct outreach at military bases, the SVI manages www.servicemembers.gov, where servicemembers, veterans, and their families can fill out an online complaint form that is transmitted directly to Department attorneys. The SVI relays matters with litigation potential to the Division’s litigating components and these referrals have enabled the Division to initiate a number of investigations and cases.
The Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section enforces the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), and has to date obtained over $470 million in remediation to over 119,155 servicemembers whose financial rights were violated. These cases involved unlawful home foreclosures, vehicle repossessions, improper interest rates, lease terminations, and default judgments. In March 2019, the Division obtained a $1.59 million settlement against a property management company in Norfolk, Virginia, for filing unlawful default judgments against military tenants on active duty.
The Division’s Employment Litigation Section continues to enhance its enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) against private, state, and local government employers, through litigation, facilitated settlements, outreach, and advocacy. Since the Division assumed USERRA enforcement authority in 2004, it has filed 105 USERRA lawsuits and favorably resolved 193 USERRA complaints. On April 1, the Department of Justice completed a settlement on behalf of Captain Rebecca Cruz, a member of the Arizona Air National Guard, resolving her USERRA claim against the City of Glendale, Arizona. The Department’s complaint in that matter, alleged that the City terminated Captain Cruz’s employment because she requested a military leave of absence. In resolution of her claim, the City agreed to compensate Captain Cruz for lost wages and benefits and to provide her with pension credits.
The Division’s Voting Rights Section closely monitors federal elections to ensure compliance with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and brings civil enforcement suits to protect the rights of eligible military and overseas voters. For example, in a suit filed by the Department last year, an agreement was reached to provide additional time for receipt of UOCAVA ballots to ensure that voters would have sufficient time to vote in a special primary election. The agreement also specified that the state would take actions necessary to ensure UOCAVA compliance in future special federal elections.
In addition to enforcement of the SCRA, USERRA, and UOCAVA, the Department continually looks for new ways to protect the rights of servicemembers, veterans, and military family members. For our veterans with disabilities, the Division has focused on outreach to veterans about the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which ensures equal access to all aspects of civic and community life. In recent months, the Department resolved complaints from veterans who alleged that, because they use a service animal, they were denied access to restaurants, shops, and health care facilities.
Servicemembers are willing to fight to defend our freedom and our great country at enormous personal sacrifice. The Civil Rights Division will work tirelessly to ensure that the rights of the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces, and the veterans who have served our country in the past, are protected. On this Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom and our nation, and rededicate ourselves to protecting the civil rights of all servicemembers, veterans, and their families.